Galinthias Outwits Eileithyia by Announcing the Birth of Heracles (verso: Portrait of Mrs. Fuseli)

 
Artist
Creation date
Materials
graphite, ink and ink washes heightened with white on white laid paper
Mark Descriptions
inscribed in ink, L.R.: Wm Blake June 1797; dated in graphite, L.C.: Apr 13. 91
Dimensions
12 1/4 x 15 5/8 in.
Credit line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. Irwin Miller
Accession number
1993.172
Collection
Not Currently On View

In Greek mythology, Heracles (Hercules) is the offspring of Zeus and Alcmene.  Hera, Zeus' jealous wife, sends the witch Eileithyia to prevent the birth.  As long as Eileithyia sits with her legs held firmly together, Alcmene's labor will be prolonged.  After seven days, the servant Galinthias hits on a cunning idea.  When she announces that the birth has occurred, the surprised witch loosens her grip allowing the actual birth to take place.  William Blake, whose name appears at the lower right corner, may have owned this and other drawings by his influential and long-standing friend Fuseli.

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Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

Henry Fuseli was known for his epic paintings, but his fellow artists said that to know him rightly one had to see his drawings. In them, unburdened by his admitted struggles with color and scale, Fuseli let his imagination fly in an encyclopedic range of literary subjects, allowing his pen to express freely all the fire and fury for which he was famous.

In Fuseli's typically theatrical rendition of a Greek myth, the wily maid-servant Galinthias, intent on easing the labor of her mistress, Alcmene, flies from the bedroom to confront Eileithyia, the goddess of childbirth, whose spell was preventing the birth of Heracles. By her premature announcement of the birth, Galinthias so surprised Eileithyia that the goddess unclasped her arms and unlocked her knees, thereby breaking the spell.

This drawing exemplifies the central principle of Fuseli's art: there is no dignity without action and no sublimity without exaggeration. To his colleagues in England's Royal Academy, who still obeyed the classical laws of perfection and "natural" beauty, Fuseli was a wild eccentric. But to the rebellious Romantic poets, particularly William Blake and the German writers of the Sturm und Drang (Storm and stress), who described their own leaps of creative imagination as "electric" and "elastic," Fuseli was an inspiration.

He is everything in extremes-always an original. His look is lightning, his word a thunderstorm, his jest is death, his revenge hell.
-Poet Johann Kaspar Lavater, 1773