William Shakespeare: a vision of his work through art

William Shakespeare: a vision of his work through art

When we speak of figures as universal as William Shakespeare, we refer to personalities that transcend the field or profession to which they are dedicated, directly influencing other great geniuses. Not a few have been those who have admired his work, and imbued by his characters and his stories have allowed them to penetrate their own.

In the 19th century, the editor John Boydell created a museum called Boydell Shakespeare Gallery from which he commissioned great British painters to paint depicting passages and characters from Shakespeare's plays. Within the context of the incipient nineteenth-century English nationalism, the gallery would serve to extol the figure of the greatest and most world-renowned writer of the British country.

In this post we will travel through Shakespeare's dramas in a very graphic way, reviewing the artistic representations inspired by the plays of the playwright that we consider most relevant and beautiful.

Hamlet in art

One of the masterpieces of the shakespearean tragedy it is Hamlet's story, in which human passions such as revenge and madness are mixed with existential doubt, leading the characters to a dramatic outcome. The betrayal of his uncle, which is revealed to Hamlet through the spectral appearance of his father, leads the character to an ethereal state of mind, in which many aspects of life are questioned, bordering on madness, and which is repeated in other characters like the beautiful Ophelia.

The 19th century art has offered us a hundred images of the figure of Hamlet in all its versions, from the vengeful aspect to the shocked and invaded by madness.

One of the most shocking images, which best captures the character's sensitivity and the anguish that corrupts him when he learns that his father's death is the result of betrayal, is found in the work of the American portraitist and landscape painter. William Morris Hunt.

His portrait reflects the young man's heartbreak, who poses standing and head down, dressed in mourning, on a balcony of the castle of Elsinor. At the bottom, a cloudy and cloudy landscape, which ends up melting into black at the top, accompanies the feelings of the main character.

Besides the portrait quality, which faithfully reflects the distress conveyed by the character in Shakespeare's tragedy, the detail with which Hunt sets the aesthetics of his painting is remarkable.

In addition to performing a full body representation, with a Hamlet dressed in 19th century clothing, the painter imagines the architectural environment figuring the silhouette of the buildings and one of the towers of the majestic Elsinor.

The chromatic range also accompanies the melancholic character of the scene, with soft tones that highlight the black of Hamlet's clothes and, therefore, his condition of mourning.

In the same way, the composition is characteristic of the portraits of the time: Hamlet is a member of the nobility and, as such, receives the proper treatment of the royal and courtly portraits of the moment, but it is that downcast gaze that breaks completely with what you would expect from a traditional portrait.

Definitely, we are presented with the most human and sentimental side of Hamlet in a work that exudes romanticism in terms of the treatment of emotions in the human face.

Just as dramatic and inspiring has been for many Ophelia's death. The beautiful woman is in love with Hamlet, however she declares herself at the wrong moment and is rejected.

When, in a fit of madness, Hamlet murders his father, Polonius, the King's faithful advisor, poor Ophelia falls into a state of exaggerated euphoria and loses her sanity, wandering around the castle singing meaningless songs and adorning everything with flowers. go.

The chaos of her madness finally leads her to a tragic death, as she ends up falling into a lake in one of her idyllic ravings and drowns, although the author does not make it very clear if she does it by accident or of her own free will, that is, suicide.

The representations of Ofelia that we find in art revolve around these two facets of the character: the beauty that she radiates and the state in which she ends up sinking..

Likewise, the passage of death in the lake, which is indirectly narrated to us in the work, is very recurrent in artistic representations.

The work of John William Waterhouse

John william waterhouseA British painter highly influenced by neoclassicism, who developed an almost hyper-realistic painting, he was able to capture the beauty of Ophelia in a representation in which the image that is offered to us of the woman is completely charming and paradisiac.

Hence, the young woman's dress stands out in white and her flesh pales, highlighting the character of the natural environment.

The scene takes us to a bucolic atmosphere, in which the main character is treated almost as if she were a Greek Venus or an Eve, accentuating the feminine forms in a relaxed posture in which the movement is given by the bent legs and the arm stroking her hair.

And yet, there is in her a lost look, although deceitful, that reminds us that the character has lost his senses.

InOphelia's death(1851-52) by symbolist John Everett Millais We are presented with a similar image, although more agonizing, as we see an Ophelia lying on the water and surrounded by flowers, who seems to breathe a last breath before dying.

The symbolism, a movement at the end of the 19th century that discarded objective representation and advocated a suggestive art loaded with symbolic images and synesthesia, saw in the character of Ofelia and her tragic death an optimal means to channel the transmission of opposing feelings, such as physical beauty and the mental delirium.

Others like EnglishGeorge Frederick Watts and french Ernest Hébert they also portrayed the beautiful Ophelia.

Romanticism and the play of Shakespeare

And likewise, some authors of romanticism, such as Eugene Delacroix, inspired by medieval and renaissance aesthetics and magnificent Shakespearean tragedies, which evoked exotic landscapes and existentialist dramas, represented some of the most characteristic scenes of the work. The painter also made his own version of Ophelia's death in 1853.

We have saved the Delacroix painting for last,Hamlet and Horace in the cemetery (1839), in which he applies all the romanticist aesthetics to one of the most emotional episodes of the tragic work: the moment when Hamlet and his faithful guard Horacio go to the cemetery where a gravedigger and his companion excavate Ophelia's grave.

In a natural and volatile environment reminiscent of The raft of the jellyfish,a gloomy Hamlet accompanied by his faithful guard Horacio talks with the undertaker and his companion, as recounted in the tragedy.

Romantic, in the artistic sense of the word. In my adolescence, both family and friends reminded me over and over that I was an inveterate humanist, as I spent time doing what perhaps others did not, believing myself to be Bécquer, immersed in my own artistic fantasies, in books and movies, constantly wanting to travel and explore the world, admired for my historical past and for the wonderful productions of the human being. That is why I decided to study History and combine it with Art History, because it seemed to me the most appropriate way to carry out the skills and passions that characterize me: reading, writing, traveling, researching, knowing, making known, educating. Disclosure is another of my motivations, as I understand that there is no word that has real value if it is not because it has been transmitted effectively. And with this, I am determined that everything I do in my life has an educational purpose.

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