Henry Fuseli (1741 Zúrich, 1825 London) , close to William Blake, was the precedent of the Romantic movement in Great Britain. One of the paintings who tried to look back to England past is the representation of Thor, God from the Germanic mythology, that could be related with the norse link of this country. The theme of this painting is unique in the production of Fuseli, there are no more iconography related with Norse mythology in his work.
The painting represents the fight between Thor and the sacred serpent Midgard. The story is taken from Icelandic Snorri Sturlson’s Prose Edda (13th century), chapter XLVIII. Thor, son of Odin, member to the As lineage, is one of the most powerful gods. He has to fight with Midgard serpent so, he sails a little boat with the giant Hymir. He cut the head of an ox and used I as bait in the hook to attract the magic and powerful serpent. Midgard fell into the trap and in that moment Thor and the serpent look each other eyes. In that moment Hymir cut the hook and the serpent was free and came back to the lake, but Thor threw his hammer Mjolnir and banged in the head of Midgard killing it.
If we watch carefully the painting we can identify the elements of the tale: down, drawing a spiral we see the imponent serpent Midgard, it is trapped by the hook. Over the boat there are Thor and Hymir. Thor stands catching the trap with one hand and brandishing his powerful hammer in the other to kill the serpent. The giant is frightened, but in that moment he´ll liberate the serpent but it´s later, Thor will kill Midgard with Mjolnir.
The composition is spectacular, with the almighty Thor, nude, in contraposto, just like the ancient Greek statues. Here Fuseli goes ahead to the male nudes paintings of the 19th century. The serpent is also impressive, so big and strong, but writhening in pain under the power of Thor.
The scene is located in a dark landscape: at night, in the shadows, a reminiscence of the Gothic Literature, that was born at the end of 18th century, just at the same time that Fuseli succeed as painter. There are more links between Fussli painting and Gothic Literature, one example is his most famous painting The Nightmare (1783).
I hope this post is interesting for you.