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

#125 "PERICLES, PRINCE OF TYRE"
Description of Painting - Oil on Canvas 23" x 33-1/2"
by Hannah Tompkins

 

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"One sin, I know, another doth provoke;
Murder's as near to lust as flame to smoke".     ( I.i.)
In pursuit of a royal bride, Pericles sailed to Antioch. He is the central figure in the painting. In Antiochus' court he looks apprehensively at the king and his daughter, with a finger on his lips, fearful of voicing his answer to their mandatory riddle which contains the secret of their incestuous relationship.

The spectacle of skulls is a grim reminder of the fate of other suitors who failed to answer or answered incorrectly.

The princess stands aloof behind her father's throne, draped in bridal white: a sharp contrast to the surrounding blackness. The sham of their pretended propriety is betrayed by their mask-like faces.

The lure of her seductive gaze and posture is repelled by her black lips that portend a venomous kiss of death. Her snaky Medusa-like hair* is crested with a golden halo-crown.

At her feet is a decorated vessel, symbol of femininity: for the princess is also a decorated vessel, used by her father.
(Note the repeated motif in her necklace.)

Behind her hangs a sheer curtain but it does not conceal the dark, smoldering inferno from whence she made her entrance.

The fire-eyed king, in his passion-red robe, sits tensed, with sword in hand as though protecting his lavish hoard of fruit and wine, which, including the cut apple suggest the indulgence of his lustful pleasures.

Pericles, engulfed in the sinister darkness, having no recourse, and fearful for his life, escapes in flight.
His aba (or robe) flows over the hills and coastlines of the foreign lands he is compelled to transverse as a hunted fugitive. The folds billow into the waves of a stormy sea that caused a shipwreck on the shores of Pentopolis, from which he is the lone survivor.
He is rescued and befriended by kindly fishermen who recover his armor in their nets, which he subsequently wears in a royal tournament and wins the love of the princess Thaisa, who becomes his wife.

Symbolically, the pictorial elements also depict the forces and tides of human existence: temptations, hazards, storms, shipwrecks on perilous rocks, salvation, the biblical fishermen and the psychic significance of the armor in the ultimate union of true love and devotion.
*NOTE: Re: MEDUSA:
In Greek mythology, Medusa was one of the Gorgons: fearful monsters who lived on a remote island. They had great wings, bodies covered with golden scales and hair a mass of twisting snakes. Whoever looked on them was immediately turned to stone. Medusa was slain by Perseus. The two remaining sisters were immortal.
FIN


Copyright © 1990 Hannah Tompkins. All rights reserved.

 

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