John Henry Fuseli/ Johann Heinrich Füssli, The Shepherd's Dream

Tate Gallery, London

Date: 1793
Technique: Oil on canvas, 154.5 x 215.5 cm

A shepherd rests while tending his sheep. Wrapped in his cloak, with his dog taking watch, he is visited by a parade of imps, fairies and elves who circle over him. The subject is drawn from folklore, and had appeared in Shakespeare and in other poetry. The vision of the shepherd was used as a simile by John Milton in his Paradise Lost (1667), to describe the fallen angels shrinking to fairysize to make more room in Hell. Fuseli referred to this text when he first exhibited the painting.

Behold a wonder! they but now who seemed In bigness to surpass Earth’s giant sons Now less than smallest dwarfs, in narrow room Throng numberless, like that Pygmean race Beyond the Indian mount, or fairy elves, Whose midnight revels, by a forest side Or fountain some belated peasant sees, Or dreams he sees, while overhead the moon Sits arbitress, and nearer to the earth Wheels her pale course: they on their mirth and dance Intent, with jocund music charm his ear; At once with joy and fear his heart rebounds.

John Milton,
Paradise Lost (1667), Book II, ll.777-89


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