Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus (1829) by J. M. W. Turner



Ulysses (otherwise more commonly known as Odysseus) is standing aloft on his ship having narrowly escaped the Cyclops, whom he and his crew have just blinded, and conjuring the maritime vengeance of Neptune. Turner, known for his delectable seascapes and chasmal light funnels, captures this iconic scene with his own anecdotic touches of interpretation: One of the flags is painted with the scene of the Trojan Horse, Polyphemus is disguised as a mountain top, the chanting sirens of the sea resemble broken waves upon Ulysses’ ship, and the horses of the sun god, Apollo, are painted as leaping in arciform over the rising sun; each subject is painted with Turner’s signature ‘vanishing effect’ made of soft hues and transparent lines.

In his article “The Paintings of Turner and the Dynamic Sublime,” George P. Landow points to how “in place of the static composition, rational and controlled, that implies a conception of the scene-as-object, Turner created a dynamic composition that involved the spectator in a subjective relation to the storm.”

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