Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Titania and Bottom, Edwin Landseer
Edwin Landseer was a Victorian painter noted in particular for his sensitive and beautifully portrayals of animals, so it’s no surprise that he chose to interpret this scene from Shakespeare’s famous comedy, in which Titania, Queeen of the Fairies, has awoken — her eyes clouded with a love potion applied by jealous husband Oberon in the hope that she “Wake when some vile thing is near.” — and has fallen madly in love with poor Nick Bottom, an innocent weaver, himself transformed by mischief-loving sprite Puck into having the head of an ass.
The beauty of love-stricken Titania is contrasted with the monumental and beautifully painted ass head, bedecked with floral wreaths as the Fairy Queen’s minions wait on him at her command.
The white rabbit is notable not only for its striking character — a pink-eyed apparition against the darkness of the deep forest night — but for the effect it may have had on author Lewis Carroll. As noted on the Google Art Project page, he saw the painting at exhibition and remarked in his dairy: ‘There are some wonderful points in it – the ass’s head and the white rabbit especially’. Whether Landseer’s painting actually influenced Carroll’s character of The White Rabbit in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is pure conjecture, but an interesting thought, nonetheless.
My eye was drawn to the far right of the painting, where the fairies romp and flitter in the forest night, the diaphanous wings of one seeming to vibrate against the moonlit sky and distant hills.