Friar Puck by Henry Fuseli, Tabley House, Knutsford

Friar Puck by Henri Fuseli

Friar Puck by Henri Fuseli - Credit: Archant

The month of June is the time of midsummer centred upon the summer solstice, which this year falls on Saturday 21st June.

In the Middle Ages the evening before midsummer was celebrated much as we now celebrate the New Year: bonfires were lit, feasts devoured and much merrymaking occurred. Midsummer is still celebrated each year in Chester in one of the UK’s oldest and most colourful festivals.

The figure of Puck in English mythology is a mischievous nature sprite or fairy and was painted several times by the artist Henry Fuseli. He painted him most notably as the character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare, although this version hanging in Tabley House is probably derived from a series of paintings based on the work of the poet John Milton.

Henry Fuseli was born in 1741 in Zurich as Johann Füssli, one of 18 children. His father intended him for a career in the church. While training he helped his friend Johann Lavater expose an unjust magistrate, whose powerful family sought revenge, forcing Fuseli into exile aged just 20. After travelling throughout Europe he settled in Britain changing his name to Henry Fuseli after an artistic trip to Italy in order to make himself appear at once Anglicised and more Italian.

Friar Puck epitomises Fuseli’s ability to inject classical scenes with a sense of gothic horror. The cherub, a chubby male child usually used to show the omnipresence of God, has been inverted. He appears now as a menacing creature clad only in a black cloak which billows in the air and which the artist cunningly lights in order to evoke a resemblance to bat wings. Puck’s face has been distorted with a pig-like snout; his hair pokes out from underneath the cloak and its horn-like shape suggests demonic intent. He rings his bell as he leaps through the air and the man he has led astray looks on from below with nought but a helpless gaze.

Tabley House is a former stately home near Knutsford now owned and supported by the University of Manchester. It has an important collection of fine art and furniture and is open from 1 - 5pm Thursday to Sunday and Bank Holidays.

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Tabley House

Located: Tabley, Knutsford,

WA16 0HB

Open: 1-5pm Thursday to Sunday and Bank Holidays.