A Subject from the Runic Superstitions by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851). Exhibited 1808. Oil on canvas, A Subject from the Runic Superstitions. Courtesy of Tate Britain (Accession no. N00464. Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856. In situ at Petworth House). Click on image to enlarge it.

Commentary from Tate Britain Online (2010)

The subject of this painting is obscure. It was exhibited, possibly unfinished, in 1808, when it was related to Runic, or Norse traditions. Such myths had frequently been painted by Henry Fuseli, Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy.

Emerging from the gloom, a seated woman raises her arm, as if to conjure up the terrifying apparition on the right. In 1812 Turner published a modified version of the image under the title ‘Rispah’. The name refers to Saul’s concubine, an Old Testament character, who protected the decaying bodies of her sons from nocturnal predators.

Last modified 14 May 2016