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The subject of this painting is obscure. It was exhibited, possibly unfinished, in 1808, when it was related to Runic, or Norse traditions. Such myths had frequently been painted by Henry Fuseli, Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy.

Emerging from the gloom, a seated woman raises her arm, as if to conjure up the terrifying apparition on the right. In 1812 Turner published a modified version of the image under the title ‘Rispah’. The name refers to Saul’s concubine, an Old Testament character, who protected the decaying bodies of her sons from nocturnal predators.

February 2010