Henry Fuseli, R.A.
- Henry Fuseli, R.A.
- The Meeting of Sir Hüon of Bordeaux and Scherasmin in the Libanon Cave, from Wieland’s Oberon
- oil on canvas
Peter Reinhart, Winterthur, Switzerland, by 1969.
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Johann-Heinrich Füssli (1741–1825): Zur Zweihunderjahrfeier und Gedächtnisausstellung, 1941, no. 22;
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Johann-Heinrich Füssli (1741–1825), Gemälde und Zeichnungen, May–July 1969, no. 77 (lent by Peter Reinhart);
London, Tate Gallery, Fuseli, February–March 1975, no. 136 (lent by Peter Reinhart).
E. R. Beutler, Johann Heinrich Füssli: Ansprache bei Eröffnung der Füßli-Ausstellung des Frankfurter Goethemuseums am 27. August 1938, Halle an der Saale 1939, p. 20;
E. Jaloux, Johann-Heinrich Füssli, Montreux, 1942, reproduced p. 148;
G. Schiff, Johann Heinrich Füssli, 2 vols, Zurich 1973, vol. I, pp. 325 and 565, no. 1219, vol. II, reproduced p. 378;
G. Schiff and P. Viotto, Tout l’œuvre peint de Füssli, Milan 1977, p. 105, no. 249;
D. H. Weinglas, Prints and Engraved Illustrations by and after Henry Fuseli, Cambridge 1994, p. 291.
By J. Heath, in Oberon, A Poem from the German of Wieland by William Sotheby Esq., 2nd ed., London, 1805.
First published in 1780, Oberon is the most celebrated work of the great German poet Christoph Martin Weiland (1733–1813) – earning the author the title of ‘The German Ariosto’. An epic saga that tells of the adventures of the knight Hüon of Bordeaux, Duke of Guyenne, condemned by the Emperor Charlemagne to travel to Babylon for slaying his son, the despicable Prince Charlot; his relationship with Oberon, King of the Fairies; and his love for Amanda (Rezia), daughter of the Khalif of Baghdad, the poem is both rich with earlier literary allusion and was a significant influence on later writers. Based upon the French medieval romance Huon de Bordeaux, it also draws inspiration from a range of diverse sources including Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Alexander Pope’s version of Chaucer’s The Merchant's Tale, and the Arabian mythology of A Thousand and One Nights; and was in turn the basis for Carl Maria von Weber’s classic opera of the same name, first performed at Covent Garden in 1826. Written in English with the role of Sir Huon performed by the great eighteenth-century tenor John Braham, Weber’s opera was later translated into German by Theodor Hell; with performances mounted in Leipzig in 1826; Dublin, Edinburgh and Vienna in 1827; Prague in 1828; and Budapest in 1829.
Weiland’s poem was also a major influence upon many other great literary and musical works of the European canon; including Schiller’s Don Carlos; Goethe’s Faust: The Second Part of the Tragedy; and Mozart’s The Magic Flute, as well as the work of the Portuguese poet Francisco Manoel de Nascimento (1734–1819). An adaptation of the poem by Sophie Seyler (1737–1789), entitled Hüon und Armande, was re-adapted by Karl Ludwig Giesecke (1761–1833) to provide a libretto for the great conductor Paul Wranitzky (1756–1808), and it was translated into English by Matthew ‘Monk’ Lewis (1775–1818), William Sotheby (1757–1833), and in America by John Quincy Adams (1767–1848).
This dramatic picture is one of a set of ten illustrations which Fuseli painted for the second edition of William Sotheby's English translation of the poem, published in 1805. Eight of these were owned by Benjamin Sharpe, a Captain in the Royal Navy and scion of the banking firm Goslings and Sharpe, who bought Hanwell Park in Middlesex in 1848. The episode depicted in the present painting is from part I, verses 18–19 in which Hüon, seeking shelter from a storm, meets a wild man dressed in tatters and cat-skins in a cave. This proves to be Scherasmin, servant to Hüon’s late father, Séguin of Bordeaux, who had died in the Holy Land. Roused by the opportunity to serve his old master’s son, Scherasmin pledges his undying loyalty to Hüon on his journey. Fuseli received 120 guineas from the publishers Cadell and Davies and felt he had made ‘a bargain not very advantageous to myself’, in contrast to the 18 guineas the engravers were paid per plate.
Weiland had lived in Switzerland for a number of years when a young man, and among his friends was Fuseli's father, Johann Caspar Füssli, a prominent portrait painter in Zurich. Only twelve years his junior the young artist must have known the great poet and Fuseli himself had begun his career as a writer, having studied theology and the classics as a young man.