Titania and the Fairies, c. 1876
The American artist, Herman Henning (1844-1893), sculpted this statue in his studio in Paris and shipped it to the United States to be exhibited in the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876. As a boy he had a natural aptitude for wood carving and went on to attend the Maryland Instituted of Design in 1855 and 1856, taking the Peabody Premium in 1860. In 1861 he pursued his studies at the Ecole De Beau Arts, in Paris, under the celebrated French sculptors Augustin-Alexandre Dumont (1801-1884) and Jean-Marie Bienaimé Bonnassieux (1810-1892). In 1865 he exhibited at the French Salon, a bust that elicited many encomiums. He returned to Baltimore and received several private and public commissions.
This statue depicts Titania, Queen of the Fairies, a character in William Shakespeare’s play A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Traditionally the fairy queen has no name. Shakespeare took the name ‘Titania’ from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, where it is an appellation given to the daughters of Titans. In the play Shakespeare also gives names to four of Titania’s fairy servants, Moth, Cobweb, Peaseblossom, and Mustardseed, seen here as the four fairies at her feet.
In Shakespeare’s play, Titania is proud and is as much of a force to contend with as her husband, Oberon. The marital quarrel over a servant she and her husband engage in at the beginning of the play results in Oberon summoning his mischievous jokester, Puck. It is Puck’s character that leads to many of the pranks that result in the comedic mix ups and confusion throughout the play. Eventually Puck casts an enchantment on Titania making her fall in love with a mortal, Nick Bottom, who has been given the head of an ass by Puck. At the end of the play all the enchanted characters awake believing the events of the night to be only a dream, according to Bottom, “past the wit of man.”