- Thomas Woodward
- oil on canvas, unframed
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's London, 29th February 1984, lot 93
The present picture is a preparatory version for the painting Woodward exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1828, no. 339, now lost. The painting aroused considerable interest at its exhibition, and the critic of the Examiner remarked that 'Mr Woodward, who has hitherto been seen in little more than single animal works, surprises us with his Mazeppa, where the horses under the most exited feelings look as if they came of the renowned race of Homer Steeds'.
The scene illustrates an episode from the seventeenth stanza of Byron's epic poem, Mazeppa. First published in 1819 the poem is based upon a popular legend of the early life of Ivan Mazepa (1639-1709), a Ukrainian gentleman and later Hetman of the Ukrainian Cossacks. Whilst serving as a page in the court of King John Casimir II, the hero of the poem becomes entangled in a love affair with the wife of an eminent court official, Countess Theresa. Upon discovery of the adulterous affair Mazeppa's punishment is to be tied naked to a wild horse which is then taunted and let loose, and the bulk of the poem deals with his traumatic ordeal thereafter.
'...He answer'd, and then fell;
With gasps and glazing eyes he lay,
And reeking limbs immovable,
His first and last career is done !
On came the troop -- they saw him stoop,
They saw me strangely bound along
His back with many a bloody thong:
They stop, they start, they snuff the air,
Gallop a moment here and there,
Approach, retire, wheel round and round,
Then plunging back with sudden bound,
Headed by one black mighty steed,
Who seem'd the patriarch of his breed,
Without a single speck or hair
Of white upon his shaggy hide;
They snort, they foam, neigh, swerve aside,
And backward to the forest fly,
By instinct, from a human eye.
They left me there to my despair,
Link'd to the dead and stiffening wretch,
Whose lifeless limbs beneath me stretch,
Relieved from that unwonted weight,
From whence I could not extricate
Nor him nor me -- and there we lay,
The dying on the dead !...'