John Henry Fuseli/ Johann Heinrich Füssli, Fairy Mab

Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington

Date: c. 1815-1820
Technique: Oil on canvas, 700 x 900 mm

Mab is the chief fairy in folklore and literature. Fuseli's source for this subject was John Milton's poem L'Allegro (around 1630). The painter claimed that he was attempting to express 'female Nature'. Fuseli emphasises the themes of sensual indulgence and sexuality, with a fairy slumped into a bowl of junket (sweetened cream) and another little spirit holding a spoon and bowl, symbolising male and female genitals.

With stories told of many a feat,
How Faery Mab the junkets eat,
She was pincht, and pull’d she sed,
And by the Friars Lanthorn led
Tells how the drudging Goblin swet,
To ern his Cream-bowle duly set

John Milton,
L’Allegro (around 1630), ll.102-7


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