The Vision of Catherine of Aragon
Research by Judy Lamb
Acc No 52
Artist Johann Heinrich Fuseli
Artist dates 1741-1825
Medium oil on canvas
Size 147.3 x 210.8 (58 x 83 in)
Date painted 1781
Donor Alderman J H Dawson
Date donated 14 November 1950
Note: label on the stretcher reads 'L & Y R to Blackburn' and 'A9280 A'
Born Johann Heinrich Fussli in Zurich, Switzerland, Fuseli initially intended to become a theologian. While completing his studies in Zurich he was introduced to philosophy, theology and the works of Shakespeare, Dante, Homer and Milton. He also befriended the poet and physiognomist, Johann Kaspar Lavater, who work focused on how one's facial expressions reflected their personality and state of mind. This research would later inform Fuseli's art. (1)
In 1764 Fuseli travelled to England to publish his translation of Johann Winckelmann's 'Painting and Sculpture of the Greeks' and during this time was encouraged by Joshua Reynolds to pursue a career as an artist. With Reynolds' encouragement and Fuseli's own resolve to become a painter, he spent eight years of rigorous artistic training in Rome from 1770-1778.
As Fuseli established himself as an artist he dismissed Winckelmann's praise and theories regarding the calm grandeur and noble simplicity of Greek sculpture in favour of the terribillta found in the work of Michelangelo. (2) This led Fuseli to begin painnting dramatic compositions filled with heroes. Due to his success abroad Fuseli's return to London in 1780 was highly anticipated by artists, patrons and intellectuals. He became ARA in 1788 and RA in 1790. Notable works of Fuseli capture the intense emotions of his characters, ghoulish fantasies and violent struggles. Fuseli's fame was ensured with extraordinary works such as The Nighmare (1781), a powerful and fanciful work of art that is filled with sublime terror and erotic thrill.
In 1786, following complaints at a dinner party where it became apparent that Britain did not have a market for historical painting, the English painter and print seller, John Boydell, opened a gallery on Pall Mall in London where the public could, for a small fee, view art that was inspired by the works of Shakespeare. Of all the contributors at Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery, Fuseli's Shakespearean work was undeniably the most important. (3)
Fuseli's work, The Vision of Catherine of Aragon (RA 1781), is a historical painting believed to be inspired by Shakespeare's King Henry the Eighth, Act IV, Scene II. At this moment in the play Katherine has just asked her attendant, Griffith, to tell her about the death of Cardinal Wolsey. Although Katherine detests Wolsey for his vast ambition, his accepting of bribes for ecclesiastical favours and his duplicitous actions, Griffith's eulogy has made Katherine wish him peace in the afterlife. Following her conversation with Griffith, Katherine falls asleep and has a vision.
Enter, solemnly tripping one after another, six personages, clad in white robes, wearing on their heads garlands of bays, and golden vizards on their faces; branches of bays or palm in their hands. They first congee unto her, then dance; and, at certain changes, the first two hold a spare garland over her head; at which the other four make reverent curtsies; then the two that hold the garland deliver the same order in their change, and holding the garland over her head: which done, they deliver the same garland to the last two, who likewise observe the same order; at which (as it were by inspiration) she makes in her sleep signs of rejoicing, and holdeth up her hands to heaven: and so in their dancing they vanish, carrying the garland with them. (4)
When Katherine awakes she calls out "Spirits of peace, where are ye? are ye all gone, and leave me here in wretchedness behind ye?" (5) Katherine's imminent death is foreshadowed as she awakes and call out to the spirits. Griffith, who believes he was called by the queen, returns and is told by Katherine that the spirits have promised her eternal happiness.
In his painting Fuseli depicts Catherine of Aragon (1485-1536), the wife of English King Henry VIII, whose divorce in 1533 led to a break with the Roman Catholic Church and allowed him to marry Ann Boleyn. The former queen is shown reclining on her deathbed, reaching upwards to a cloud of partially nude heavenly figures whilst two attendants sit in the lower left corner. Though the dream describes the heavenly figures as wearing garlands and golden vizards, whilst carrying branches of bay or palm, in this picture Fuseli omits these details. Instead, he has the central spirit reach out with a golden crown as the queen extends her left arm towards it.
Rather than creating a work focused on the ill fate of Catherine's impending death, Fuseli's use of her vision emphasises his skill as a master of invention, creator of fanciful worlds and 'interpreter of Shakespeare at the most poetic'. (6)
Several critics believe that The Vision of Catherine of Aragon is the lost painting, Queen Katherine's Dream, which Tate Britain included, under that title, in their 2006 exhibition, 'Gothic Nightmares: Fuseli, Blake and the Romantic Imagination'. They reached this opinion based on the stipple engraving Queen Katherine's Dream (c1781-88) by Francessco Bartolozzi, said to be after a lost Fuseli painting. Published on 4 April 1783, the print, whose imagery is very similar to the oil painting, was the only Shakespearian-inspired work published in Thomas Macklin's series of British Poets. (7)
1780 Commissioned by Sir Robert Smyth 1744-1802 - 5th Baronet of Upton Sussex
1802 Bequeathed to his son and heir Sir George Henry Smyth 1784-1852
- 6th Baronet
1852 Bequeathed to his son and heir Thomas George Graham White 1852-1878
1878 Posthumous sale by Messrs Christies, Manson & Woods, 23 March 1878,
taken by Andrew Waters, Head of Private Collections & Country House Sales
1878 In the Collection of Leonard Redmayne of Blackburn (d1906)
(Click on name for more information on the Redmayne/Tiller family)
1906 Bequeathed to his children, Mrs Leonore Marguerite Mary Tiller and
John Leonard Redmayne 1868-1943
1931 Loaned to Lytham St Annes Council by Mrs L M M Tiller on behalf of Miss Mary Redmayne, Miss Kathleen Redmayne and Mr John Redmayne Tiller for a period
of not less than seven years
1950 Purchased from Tiller family by Alderman James Herbert Dawson
1950 Given to Town Collection of Lytham St Annes (Fylde Borough Council from 1974)
(1) Davies, Penelope E
Janson's History of Art: The Western Tradition, p807
(2) Rodgers, David
(3) Petra ten-Doesschate Chu
Nineteenth Century European Art, p82
(4) Shakespeare, William
King Henry the Eighth, Act IV, Scene II
(5) Ibid, Act IV, Scene II, verse 82
(6) Myrone, Martin
Gothic Nightmare: Fuseli, Blake and the Romantic Imagination, p152
(7) Macklin, Thomas
Henry Fuseli, 1741-1825, p72