This dreamlike 1793 painting by Henry Fuseli, known as Macbeth Consulting the Vision of the Armed Head, is perhaps the finest artwork collected by Henry and Emily Folger. According to the painter, this was one of his “best poetical conceptions,” with a subject well suited to his favored themes of nightmare, fantasy, and terror.
The painting depicts Macbeth’s second encounter with the witches, in which they conjure up a series of apparitions beginning with a disembodied head—bearing a grotesque resemblance to Macbeth in Fuseli’s conception. As the head delivers its warning to “beware MacDuff,” the murderer-king recoils at an unbalanced angle that adds to the picture’s sense of unreality.
Fuseli’s work was originally commissioned for a Dublin-based Shakespeare Gallery, an exhibition that charged an entry fee and sold engravings of the works displayed, which later moved to London.
When the frame was cleaned in the late 1990s, the neatly lettered words “Macbeth Act 4 Scene 1 Hy Fuseli” were discovered on the frame above the painting, just as spectators at the Shakespeare Gallery would have seen them two centuries before.