Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Herbert Draper's Prospero Mural

Victorian painter Herbert Draper (1864-1920) undertook a massive ceiling decoration project. 

Here he is in his studio working on the large oval composition, with the bottom edge rolled under. He has various ladders and platforms to allow him to reach the life-size figures.

The mural shows "Prospero Summoning Nymphs and Deities," a scene based on Shakespeare's play The Tempest.

Prospero (the dark figure with the upraised hand) was the rightful Duke of Milan, cast adrift by his usurping brother to live out his life on an island. There he learns the sorcerers' arts and thereby becomes acquainted with the nymphs and other supernatural beings. 

Draper drew several exquisite studies for the characters in the story using charcoal on tone paper . Here's a study for Prospero's head.  

I would guess he had the models lying sideways on cushions, and then he turned the poses vertically to make them ascending or descending.

Given that it is a ceiling decoration, there's no up or down, and the figures seem to exist in a realm without gravity.

Beautiful as they are to our modern eyes, these studies were created as a means to an end, not an end in themselves. They're not meant to be objective, accurate renderings of the models as real people, but rather, they're idealized, already beginning to capture the spirit and animation of the imaginary beings.


Jim Douglas said...

Jim, do you know where the Prospero Mural was installed? Or if it still exists?

James Gurney said...

It's in Draper's Hall, London.
I think the name is no relation.