John Henry Fuseli, Wolfram Introducing Bertrand of Navarre to the Place where he had Confined his Wife with the Skeleton of her Lover

Tate Gallery, London

Date: c. 1812-1820
Technique: Oil on canvas, 970 x 700 mm

The lord of a castle shows an unseen visitor his faithless wife, secreted in a sepulchral chamber, embracing the headless, skeletal remains of her lover. A young admirer recalled Fuseli telling the story: ‘At breakfast Fuseli mentioned a picture which he had just sketched from an ancient German Ballad and promised at night to relate the Story – for he said it must be at night – “I can only tell it at night”’.



  1. I strolled over to your blog from Tumblr [hat tip to 2headedsnake], and became fascinated by the story behind this Fuseli picture. Although I have tried my Google-foo, I cannot find the German ballad which [may have] inspired this picture. I did find a delightful essay http://kirjasto.sci.fi/fuseli.htm

    "... his best-known scene, The Nightmare, ... A young woman is mounted by a demonic looking incubus; the monster literally is a burden on her heart. She lies in a sprawl, with her arm hanging down. ... Sleeping Woman and the Furies (1821) took the sexual undertones even further. Now the woman is half-naked and her figure suggest that she has been violated. Another cruel fantasy was Wolfram Looking at his Wife, whom he has Imprisoned with the Corpse of her Lover (1812-20). From these and other works it has been concluded, that Fuseli was a misogynist and he feared and loathed dominant women."
    So perhaps the German ballad was apocryphal.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Blue.
    I found that this painting was based on one of the Margaret of Navarre's stories from 'Heptaméron'. Maybe she used motives from some German ballad.


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