The Fairy Queen

Perhaps somewhat similar to another one of my fairy-posts, this one is also about a painting which is inspired by Shakespeare (so much so that it even borrows its title from A midsummer night’s dream) and which depicts Titania, Queen of the Fairies.

John Simmons(1823-1876) was a painter from Bristol who specialized in female portraiture, with a preference (rather typical of his times) for representing supernatural feminine figures, such as goddesses and fairies. Given his background, he had a certain predilection towards eroticizing the subject more than the average Victorian painter, in a manner that harks back to Renaissance. The painting below is entitled There sleeps Titania (1872) and you will find the fragment from which he borrowed the phrase at the end of this post. As an interesting fact, he painted at least three Titanias in different postures, some of which I might come back to in the future.

A lovely composition, with its delicate and feminine frame of flowers and Titania’s voluptuous body and dainty wings. What fascinates me, though, is the crown (at least I think it is a crown) hanging from the flower above her head – as if, in sleep, she is lowered to the rank of all the other fairies.

The name Titania was borrowed by Shakespeare from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, where the word described the daughters of the Titans. She becomes the queen of fairies (a character which existed, nameless, in Anglo-Saxon folklore, and inspired many works of art, see Edmund Spenser’s The Fairy Queene) and the wife of Oberon and one of the few such figures which do not suffer from the French features of ‘dainty and diminutive’ which Tolkien complained about.

Oberon’s lines from A midsummer night’s dream:
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight;
And there the snake throws her enamell’d skin,
Weed wide enough to wrap a fairy in


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Filed under Artlove, Poetrylove

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