Henry Fuseli, R.A.
Hüon befreit den vom Löwen angefallenen Babekan (Hüon rescues Babekan from the Lion), 1804-05
Leni von Schulthess-Bodmer, Zürich; and by descent.
Federmann, Johann Heunrich Füssli: dichter und maler, 1741 – 1825, Zürich and Leipzig, 1927, p. 33 (illus.)
Denk, ‘Goethe und die Bildkunst des Sturms und Drangs’, in Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte, vol. VIII, 1930, p. 127.
E.R. Beutler, Johann Heinrich Füssli: Ansprache bei Eroffnung der Fuβli-Ausstellung des Frankfurter Goethemuseums am 27 August 1938, Halle an der Saale, 1939, p. 20.
Jaloux, Johann Heinrich Füssli, Montreux, 1942, p. 146.
Antal, Fuseli Studies, London, 1956, pp. 159-60.
Schiff, Johann Heinrich Füssli 1741 – 1825: Text und Oeuvrekatalog, Zürich, 1973, vol. I, pp. 326, 566, no. 1222; vol/ II, p. 417 (illus. fig. 1222).
Schiff and P. Viotto, L’Opera Completa di Füssli, Milan, 1977, p. 105, no. 252 (illus.)
D.H. Weinglass, Prints and Engraved Illustrations by and after Henry Fuseli: A Catalogue Raisonné, Aldershot, 1994, pp. 292-93 (engraving illus. p. 292, no. 247).
Lentzsch et al, Füssli: The Wild Swiss, exh. cat., Kunsthaus, Zürich, 2005, p. 85, no. 92 (illus.)
Reifert and C. Blank (eds.), Fuseli: Drama and Theatre, exh. cat., Kunstmuseum, Basel, 2018, pp. 109, 209 (illus.), no. 20.
Zürich, Kunsthaus, Johann-Heinrich Füssli (1741–1825), Gemälde und Zeichnungen, 17 May – 6 July 1969, no. 80.
Zürich, Kunsthaus, Füssli: The Wild Swiss, 14 Oct. 2005 – 8 Jan. 2006, no. 92.
Basel, Kunstmuseum, Fuseli: Drama and Theatre, 20 Oct. 2018 – 10 Feb. 2019, no. 20.
Warren (1766 – 1823), published 1 March 1806 (reproduced as Schiff 1320).
Hüon befreit den vom Löwen angefallenen Babekan (Hüon rescues Babekan from the Lion) is one of a set of ten illustrations by Johann Heinrich Füssli (known as Henry Fuseli in Britain) to the second edition of William Sotheby’s English translation of Oberon (published 1805), an epic poem by the German Romantic author Christoph Martin Wieland. Wieland had lived in Switzerland for a number of years as a young man, and counted among his friends there Füssli’s father, Johann Caspar Füssli, a prominent painter in Zürich. Füssli, just twelve years Wieland’s junior, would have known the great poet personally.
Oberon was based on a French medieval tale, Hüon de Bordeaux, and also drew from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Alexander Pope’s adaptation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Merchant’s Tale, and the Arabian mythology of A Thousand and One Nights. It is an epic saga following the adventures of the knight Hüon of Bordeaux, Duke of Guyenne, condemned by the Emperor Charlemagne to travel to Babylon for slaying his son, the villainous Prince Charlot.
In the scene illustrated here, Hüon and his squire Sherasmin rescue the Saracen Babekan from a menacing lion. It is only after Babekan steals Hüon’s horse and flees that Huon realises he is Hüon’s rival for the affections of the Caliph of Baghdad’s daughter Rezia.
As forward darts the beast with hideous roar,
And flashes lightening from his eyes of flame,
Hüon divides his flank with sidelong aim:
The would inflames the forest king the more;
Fiercely he bounds, and rends with headlong spring
The iron plates that round the warrior cling:
Blood from a thousand sources dies the plain:
That single stroke had torn the knight in twain,
Save for the magick force of Angulaffer’s ring!
Sir Hüon summons his remaining strength,
And though death glar’d before him, undismay’d
Darts in the monster’s neck his vengeful blade –
In vain, high rais’d, his tail’s enormous length
Swings in the air, and curling to and fro
Had crush’d in instant death his prostrate foe,
If active Hüon had not leap’d aside –
In vain his claws gigantick open wide;
Bold Sherasmin draws near, and fells him at a blow! (vol. I, p. 113).
The composition is loosely based on a drawing by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, who was in turn inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s now lost Battle of Anghiari. Rubens’s drawing, which features warriors in combat astride horses that rear and bite one another, was at one time in the collection of the collector and scholar William Young Ottley (1771 – 1836), who served as Keeper of the Department of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum from 1833 until his death. It is probable that Füssli saw the drawing when it belonged to Ottley, and was impressed by Rubens’s dynamic, spiralling arrangement. It can also be compared to Rubens’s St. George Slaying the Dragon.
Füssli received payment of 120 guineas from the publishers Cadell and Davies, and felt that he had made ‘a bargain not very advantageous’ to himself in comparison to the 18 guineas per plate paid to the engravers.
Füssli was born in Zürich, and his father originally intended him for the church so he received a superior classical education. After taking orders, however, Füssli was obliged to flee the country after assisting his friend Johann Kaspar Lavater to denounce a corrupt magistrate. He arrived in England in 1765 and fortuitously met Sir Joshua Reynolds, who encouraged him to develop his skill in drawing. After a lengthy period of travel and study in Italy from 1770-78 (during which he changed his name to Henry Fuseli), Füssli returned to Britain, via Zürich, in 1779. He was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1788 and a full Member in 1790, going on to serve as Professor of Painting beginning in 1799. Füssli’s unique style, with its mix of mysticism, the Romantic, and the supernatural, influenced many of his pupils and younger contemporaries such as William Blake.