Consulting the Oracle features seven young women sat together in a semi-circle opposite a shrine. It is believed that the lady standing on the left of the composition is describing the words of the Oracle. It is this attention on one figure by the other women which was of particular symbolic importance to the artist. We also see the burning of incense within the scene which helps to communicate the atmosphere of the room across to the viewer of this painting. The room is fairly darkly lit, allowing the women to concentrate on the ritual being carried out in front of them. Some historians have compared the formation of the women with a keyhole, including in several publications that were entirely devoted to this artist in their entireties.

The delicate, ornate details in this scene put it amongst Waterhouse's best, even before you start to consider the symbolic value of the content that you find in front of you. European artists were inspired by the cultural flourishes of cultures all across the world. North Africa and the Middle East appears to be the influence here and can also be seen in the work of Jean-Léon Gérôme on many occasions. The marbled finish on the floor, with small mosaic tiles is beautifully finished and immediately reminds us of the careers of Frederic Leighton and Lawrence Alma-Tadema (see Ask Me No More and The Women of Amphissa). Drapery is another aspect of art which requires considerable practice in order to achieve accuracy and Waterhouse displayed a strong ability in this throughout his career - his beautiful muses were often dressed in beautiful summer dresses which required just the right hang from the body in order to finish each piece.

The standing lady, possibly a priestess, turns around to the women with an expression of amazement on her face. This same reaction can also be seen on the faces of some of the other women. Some look shocked, others continue their focus on events. Clearly the words of the Oracle have them all caught in rapture, with some cultures referring to this alternatively as a Teraph. The detail found across this painting makes it likely that artist Waterhouse would have spent time practicing elements of the scene elsewhere, probably in the form of drawing sketches, possibly even study paintings which would be left incomplete. The painting itself is now a part of the Tate Collection in the UK, which contains a large array of work from the Pre-Raphaelites.

Consulting the Oracle in Detail John William Waterhouse