Aesculapius was the god of medicine in ancient Greek religion and mythology. He is the son of Apollo and Coronis. He is believed to be a representation of the healing element of medical arts. Aesculapius is believed to have discovered various cures for diseases. He learned about the art of healing using the properties of plants. Some legends claim that his healing prowess grew too far that he could bring back the dead to life. In some tales of Aesculapius, he learned how to prevent death using his creative cures. He also learned how to resurrect the dead, angering Zeus. This anger resulted in Zeus throwing a thunderbolt at Aesculapius because he blurred the line between mortals and gods.
John William Waterhouse depicts Aesculapius in A Sick Child Brought into the Temple of Aesculapius in his healing element. The painting features Aesculapius in a white robe inside his temple. A woman is sitting with a child in her arms. The woman is assumed to be the parent to the child. Next to her is a man in a brown robe looking at the woman with the child. The man is believed to be the father to the child. Another child is standing behind the woman in a dark green robe. In front of the woman is another child sitting on the floor with a white robe. The setting of the photo features ancient Greek elements like statues. This symbolizes the time when this scene took place. The child in the arms of the woman stretches his hand, holding a piece of utensil. This symbolizes him asking for one of the cures or medicines created by Aesculapius. In Aesculapius is the medicine in question. His pose shows him moving towards the boy. John William Waterhouse wanted to show Aesculapius in his glory and doing what he did best.
This may be one of the most popular mythological paintings by John William Waterhouse, but it is not the only one. John often got his inspiration from Greek mythology, history, and literature. He created similar mythological paintings like Mariamne Leaving the Judgement Seat of Herod in 1887, several compositions featuring the mythological character Circle, The Awakening of Adonis, and Psyche Opening the Door into Cupid’s Garden in 1904, to name a few. This painting remains part of the private collection owned by the John William Waterhouse estate. However, there are several recompositions by talented artists from across the globe.