John Henry Fuseli/ Johann Heinrich Füssli, Thor Battering The Mitgard Serpent

Royal Academy of Arts, London

Date: 1790
Technique: Oil on canvas, 1310 x 910 mm

The Icelandic hero, Thor, raises his weapon to strike at the monstrous Mitgard Serpent, which he has fished from the churning black sea. The diminutive elderly figure at the top of the canvas is intended as the god Odin. The subject is drawn from the medieval epic, The Edda. Fuseli presented this work to the Royal Academy in 1790, when he was elected a member. It exemplifies his interest in super-heroic action and in unusual literary sources.

"Then taking out a fishing line extremely strong, he fixed it to the ox’s head, unwound it, and cast it into the sea. The bait reached the bottom, the Serpent greedily devoured the head, and the hook stuck fast in his palate. Immediately the pain made him move with such violence that Thor was obliged to hold fast with both his hands by the pegs which bear against the oars: but the strong effort he was obliged to make with his whole body caused his feet to force their way through the boat and they went down to the bottom of the sea; whilst with his hands, he violently drew up the Serpent to the side of the vessel."

From Paul Henri Mallet, Northern Antiquities, translated by Thomas Percy (1770)


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