Rhinemaidens: the Keepers of Rhinegold

Three water spirits have a very special role in the Ring of the Nibelung. They are sometimes called Rhine daughters (Rheintochter) or Rhinemaidens. While they have individual names (Woglinde, Wellgunde and Flosshilde with the latter being the oldest and obviously the leader of the pack) but act as one character. They are seductive and playful, acting like some kind of guardians of nature's treasures represented as the gold (sunshine in the river stream) in the Rhine.


Their playfulness is shown through several elements in opera: through childlike circle dance, loud laughter and not-least the use of the so-called pentatonic sound, which was considered as primitive in the time of Wagner's creation. The Rhine-daughters are the only characters in the Ring of Nibelung which can't be found in the so-called Old Norse Eddas. Richard Wagner created them based on other legends, mostly on The Song of the Nibelungs. We can also find three playful water spirits in one of the Helene Adeline Guerber's stories in the Legends of the Rhine.


These three water spirits came to the village named Brey when there was a dance and three young men, stroked by their beauty danced with them until late evening. When the girls decided to leave the party and refused any company boys followed them until the river. Astonished to see how they went into the water, guys did the same but instead of the girls caught only cold water. They disappeared but once per year, right on the day when they were swallowed by the Rhine this part of the river turns red.


Daughters of Rhine don't have known the origin, so several analysts believe Wagner created as literally as the daughters of river Rhine, nature's force. They are the first and last characters seen in the Ring what makes them kind of frame characters for all presented events. Even more, they are the only characters clearly seen alive in the end what can't be said for any of other ones. The gold they guard is not just a precious metal. It0s said the one who could make a ring out of it would get unbelievable power.


The music for the scenes with Rhinemaidens is considered the most lyrical in the whole Nibelung cycle and it is believed the author played pieces about these Naiades on the night before his death. Many painters and illustrators portrayed Woglinde, Wellgunde and Flosshilde during last centuries. The most successful attempt is undoubtedly Arthur Rackham's, yet it's great to see other masters doing the same as well.


Beautiful black and white drawing by Hugo Ludwig Braune (1872-?/very likely during WW2) above is a part of sheet music, what is only one of possible usages of Rhinemaidens' drawings. As we will see, most artists preferred to present them in interaction with other characters.


Let's see them with Hagen!

Hagen looks like a mighty warrior, but is actually a selfish illegitimate son of Albrich, the leader of dwarfs who wants the ring, made of Rhinegold. Hagen kills Siegfried to be able to get the ring for himself, but is too afraid to take it when the Siegfried's corpse threatens him.

The scene with Hagen and Rhine maidens is painted in oil by Georg Kugler (1840-1916) and measures more than one meter horizontally and vertically in original.

The picture above is work of Austrian painter Josef Hoffmann (1831-1904). It show Alberich, the main negative character who is ready to steal Rhinegold.

We see Alberich¸almost in the same position below, this time in color painting done by Hermann Hendrich (1854-1931).

Alberich looks very satisfied with Rhinegold, as shown by Hans Makart (1840-1884) ...

He is clearly faster than Rhinemaidens, as portrayed by Franz Napoleon Heigel (1813-1888).

Yet the most popular scene among artist was the one where Rhine maidens lure Siegfried.

How Arthur Rackham saw this?

Josef Hoffmann decided to make a very similar scene, but with different look of all characters and in more complex composition with a much more distant and unclear view:

Gaston Bussiere (1862-1928) decided to portray Siegfried with a pike instead of the shield, putting him in more aggressive position, yet he still looks undecided. The Rhinemaidens still look more self-confident and generally in better position.

Siegfried on Henry Fantin-Latour's (1836-1904) lithograph on wove paper looks almost as someone who is trying to run away.

We have one more variation on the dynamic. This time Siegfried on the horse. Painted by Albert Pinkham Ryder.

The last presented painting on this page is done by Swiss painter Johann Heinrich Fussli (1741-1825), in English speaking world more known as Henry Fuseli. He also opted for Siegfried on the horse in the position of power.

But we all know - Siegfried died and Rhinemaidens are alive in the end of the Nibelung's ring.