7 Pieces of Art Inspired by Shakespeare

Earlier this week we visited Shakespeare and death as part of the 400th anniversary of his passing. I thought it would be nice to take a break and do something different. Last year as part of the 450th anniversary of his birth I gave you lists of inspired book titles, music, and poetry. You can find them all here, under the Words, words, words, Shakespeare page. Today we are looking at 7 pieces of art inspired by Shakespeare.


Dante Gabriel Rossetti The Question 1875

Pencil, approximately 19 x 16 inches. Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham, England.

In a letter to his friend Frederick Stephens, Rossetti said that this drawing is based on Shakespeare’s great line, “To be or not to be, that is the question”. Rossetti may have been inspired by both Shakespeare and the death of Oliver Madox Brown, the son of Rossetti’s friend, Ford Madox Brown. Oliver drowned in 1874. The death must have been distressing to Rossetti who also said in his letter to Stephens, “The mystery of early death, one of the hardest of all impenetrable dooms“.


Edwin Austin Abbey, Richard Duke of Gloucester, and the Lady Anne, 1876

Oil on canvas, 52.5 x 104.25 inches. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.

This painting depicts the scene that occurs in Richard III, when Richard, who has played a part in the deaths of Edward, Prince of Wales, and his father, Henry VI, admits, “What though I killed her husband and father,” maliciously woos Anne, who is taking the body of her father-in-law Henry VI to his burial in Chertsey. The painting was accompanied in the Royal Academy catalogue for 1896 with these lines from Richard’s final passage in the scene: “Was ever woman in this humor wooed? / Was ever woman in this humor won?” I’ve yet to see a production that fully explains Anne’s willingness to marry the man who wanted to “prove himself a villain”


Sir John Gilber, Shylock after the trail 1873

Steel engraving, approximately 6.5 x 10.5 inches, by G. Greatbach. The engraving is from Charles Knight’s two-volume Imperial Edition of The Works of Shakespeare (London)

Here’s a fun fact, the title of Gilbert’s painting is a misidentification and so is misnamed. After the trial Shylock leaves the stage and we hear no more of him. The action Gilbert illustrates here occurs before the trial but after Shylock learns that his daughter Jessica has eloped with Lorenzo (and a large sum of his money). This painting shows Shylock running madly through the streets lamenting his lost daughter and money. It should be titled, Shylock after the betrayal.


William Blake Portrait of Shakespeare Date unknown 1800-1803 (?)

Tempera on canvas, approximately 16 x 32 inches. Manchester City Art Galleries

Blake based Shakespeare’s portrait on the engraving of Droeshout (First Folio fame). Shakespeare is surrounded by a wreath of laurel leaves. Emory points out, on the right is the scene where Macbeth goes to the witches and receives his second set of prophecies; on the left is the ghost of Banquo, pointing to the first of the succession of kings”.


Edward Robert Hughes The Shrew Katherina, 1898

Watercolor, 19 x 28 inches. The collection of Mr. and Mrs. Sandor Korein.

This paining fascinates me; it could be any woman who has a lot on her mind. The color scheme matches the Lady Katherina’s mood. Emory tell us:

Hughes portrays Katherine in an uncharacteristically pensive mood, contemplating her empty plate and glass, hungry, and no doubt mulling over what course of action she might take. She complains of her hunger to the servant Grumio and implores him to bring her some food.


Charles Hunt The Play Scene in Hamlet 1868

Oil on canvas, approximately 18 x 26 inches. Yale Center for British Art.

I found this painting to be so fun and full of life I just had to share it. This is my first taste of Hunt; he could easily become one of my favorite artists. Apparently the Victorians agreed, as they adored paintings of children as much as they did Shakespeare. Hunt found success with this painting and produced other whimsical painting of children performing Shakespeare. His works include, The Banquet Scene: “Macbeth” and The Trial Scene: “The Merchant of Venice”. Oh how I’d love to have them all.


Henry Fuseli The Three Witches Date unknown. After 1783

Oil on canvas, 30 x 36 inches. The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Picture Gallery and Museum, Stratford-upon-Avon.

This is the painting that always comes to mind when I think of when artists and Shakespeare.Not much is known what inspired Fuseli to paint the three witches as accusers, which is to bad, as this is one of the most famous Shakespeare inspired pieces of art, next to Sir John Everett Millais’ Ophelia.

Do you have a favorite Shakespeare inspired piece of art? What would you have included in your list?


Works referenced/Cited

English.Emory. edu Shakespeare Illustrated

Shakespeare, William Richard III Folger’s edition

A biography of each artist can be found by clicking the link on their name

The history of ancient mermaids

This week we celebrate  laugh at Christopher Columbus’s discovery of mermaids. He notes that on January 9th his crew spotted them. Later it is assumed he saw Manatees.

To celebrate Columbus’ discovery, ah mistake I thought I would offer my readers the history of ancient MermaidsUntitled1

 A Ugarit cuneiform tablets attest to a fecund “Lady Goddess of the Sea”

The first mermaids in ancient cultures were worshiped as goddesses and appeared in mythology between 1200 B.C.E. to 49 A.D. Stories in ancient Canaan, (dates of which are hard to pin down) we find reference to a sea goddess who is clearly the consort of the god El. For it is written (in part):

As soon as El saw her, 
he opened his mouth and laughed;
… he raised his voice and shouted:
“Why has Lady Asherah-of-the-Sea arrived?
why has the Mother of the Gods come?

It is interesting to note that the above lines come from writing that will eventually make their way into the Old Testament. Though the story of El and Asherah are plentiful and easily accessible no mention of her is in the Bible though the spread of civilization in the ancient East is also attributed to Ashera. It is is said to have taught the people social and religious practices.

Amman, Citadel Archaeological Museum Tyche or Atargatis, Nabatean Goddess of Fruits and Fertility
Amman, Citadel Archaeological Museum Tyche or Atargatis, Nabatean Goddess of Fruits and Fertility

The Greek historian Diodorus Siculus referenced the mermaid myth in his Bibliotheca Historica (Universal history). From Syria to Greece references to a mermaid named Atargatis can be found.  And it seems no matter which culture mentions Atargatis her story is always the same.

Atargatis was in love with a human shepherd but accidentally killed him.  Out of guilt, the goddess flung herself into the ocean hoping to become a fish.  But her beauty was so great, that she never could fully become a fish.  Instead she became half goddess, half fish, with a tail below the waist and human body above the waist.   

The worship of Atargatis began in ancient Assyria and spread as far as Rome and Greece.  She is also known as Derketo in Greek mythology and is thought to have been the inspiration for the worship of the Greek goddess Aphrodite.  Atargatis is considered to be Great Mother and Goddess of Fertility of the earth and water.

Doves and fish were her sacred animals, doves symbolizing love and fish symbolizing that she was the fertility of the waters.  Fish were so sacred to her that in the Syrian town of Ascalon, people were forbidden from eating fish from a lake near Atargatis’s temple.  These fish were very well kept, had jewels on their head and were as affectionate as pets when they were approached by people from the town. Her close ties to the conservation of fish and water fertility explain why the ancient goddess was depicted as a mermaid.

Now Atargatis is used as a New Age symbol of fertility and wisdom. Some even celebrate the February 21 as the Feast day of Atargatis. It is said The Feast of Atargatis, is a strange but true surreal visionary adventure of psychic communications across time and space, of haunting past lives and the battle between a mermaid fish Goddess and a dark sea monster from another dimension. No mention if fish is served during the celebration. One would hope not!


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