Henry Fuseli, R.A. 1741 - 1825
Thor battering the Midgard Serpent
Photo: R.A./John Hammond
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Thor battering the Midgard Serpent, 1790
Oil on canvas, 1330 X 946 mm
Diploma Work given by Henry Fuseli, R.A., accepted 1790
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This mythological subject comes from the Icelandic sagas of the Edda, which were known in England from P. H. Mallet’s book Northern Antiquities (1770). Fuseli depicts the fable in which Thor rows out in a boat with the giant Hymir, shown cowering somewhat cowardly in the stern. Using an ox’s head as bait, Thor manages to fish up the Serpent of Midgard. In the top left is shown the elderly figure of the god Odin.
Fuseli’s heroic figure wrestling with the evil serpent is given great grandeur and drama as it emerges from the inky background. Parallels have been drawn between this epic struggle and contemporary events in France. Fuseli was an enthusiastic supporter of the French Revolution and Thor’s battle with the serpent could be seen to mirror the French people’s struggle against the ancien régime.

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