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Catalog of the Shakespeare Art Collection  --  Oil Paintings on Shakespearean Themes

Description of Painting - Oil on Canvas 30"x 38"
by Hannah Tompkins


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In this play Shakespeare draws a wide arc of Humankind, from animalistic Caliban to spiritual Ariel. He has put these species, human, sub-human and super-human, on an island: an allegorical separation from a 'civilization' corrupted by greed and power lust, and a symbol for each being's separate identity.

The painting shows such islands, set in the vast sea of life. The central figure is Prospero, the 'father', well practiced in a magic he calls his "art", a consummation of knowledge. His dedication to such pursuits occasioned his expulsion from his dukedom by a "false and perfidious brother". But aspiring man does not readily concede to adversity in his resolute progress from primal ignorance, through worldly enlightenment to spiritual sublimity, with the ultimate realization that earthly values are best employed when the spirit is first disciplined and obedient and then set free.

Prospero is shown in an expansive posture: his right hand has incurred "the tempest"..the storm within each being that must be resolved before the spirit can be emancipated: his left hand completes this commitment by releasing Ariel.

To the lower right is Caliban, "this thing of darkness", crouching in the confinement of a dark cave, on a bleak little island dotted with small stones, insignificant in their idleness.

But Prospero, as striving Humankind, has used his stones to build steps and is ascending them in a stride that spans the stone cave.

The three elements comprising the arc are all painted in correlating non-color white that effects a strong contrast to the two warm and natural lovers sharing a single island, directly beneath the spiritual aura and energy of Ariel.

The rocks on their island are substantial and afford support and protection, where they have retired after their betrothal pledge, to play chess.

Miranda's education in island isolation was one of 'natural growth', with emphasis on moral values, kindness and compassion. On her island therefore, is evidence of natural growth, in the grass, flowers and trees, and suggest the fruitfulness of faith and friendship shared by the lovers.

Despite his eagerness for this union, Prospero's magic was powerless. It was left for Ariel, the spirit. Once the spirituality is realized, the rest of the harmonies follow in natural order. On first seeing young Ferdinand, Miranda exclaims:
"What is't? A spirit?
It carries a brave form, but 'tis a spirit."
It is this very spirit that sustains the legacies of knowledge and art.

This nameless island is one of visions and dreams, and but for the dreams, Humankind might still be cringing in a dark and lonely cave. In Prospero's words:
"We are such stuff as dreams are made on."

Copyright © 1990 Hannah Tompkins. All rights reserved.


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