The British painter John William Waterhouse concluded the artwork entitled Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses in 1891. The artist began his artistic career studying at the Royal Academy of London but soon became attracted to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Waterhouse represented the second generation of the movement, as the original brotherhood began the year he was born. The painter was able to preserve the ideals of the group within his artistic production and bring them into the next century.
The Pre-Raphaelites, as the name states, gave attention to themes that came before Raphael. The Brotherhood worked mostly with medieval environments, with knights and Arthurian legends, as well as myths of the ancient Greeks. The painting Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses was based on Homer’s iconic work of epic poem called Odyssey, where the two main characters are described. Ulysses, also known as Odysseus, was a Greek king and the hero, while Circe was depicted as the evil sorceress, a sensual and deadly Goddess – sometimes seen as a nymph or witch.
In Circe Offering the Cup to Ulysses, Waterhouse depicts the scene in which Circe has poisoned Ulysses’ crew and transformed them into pigs. She is centered on the canvas, sitting on a golden throne with the image of two mighty lions on the arms of the chair. The Goddess is barefoot, wearing a see-through turquoise colored draped dress. She raises her head as well as both arms in the air, holding a cup in one hand and a large wand in the other. Behind the female figure, there is a large round mirror that enables the viewer to see Ulysses approaching her.
According to the myth, the hero was able to prevent himself from being poisoned by taking an antidote beforehand and surprising his enemy. The painting gives a mystical atmosphere, with a dark background. The ground features many dark purple flowers, as well as a single frog – possibly a use of symbolism. By Circe’s feet, a dark brown wild pig is fallen on the ground, a poisoned crew member. The tiles on the ground are detailed and ornamented, and there is a golden incense holder on the right side of the composition with smoke coming out. Circe’s exceptional beauty and strong pose captivate the viewer in her spell.
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