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Fuseli first read Shakespeare’s plays as a student in Zurich. This painting illustrates the scene in A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which the fairy queen Titania is punished for her pride by her husband Oberon. He casts a spell which makes her fall in love with Bottom, whose head has been magically replaced by that of an ass. Here Titania orders her fairies to serve his every whim. Shakespeare’s enchanted realm held a special appeal for Fuseli, allowing him to explore the supernatural world. This painting was commissioned by the publisher John Boydell as part of his ‘Shakespeare Gallery’.

February 2016