Behind a grove of trees, a building looms imposingly. The painting depicts a story taken from Homer's Odyssey, in which the sorceress Circe encounters the warrior Ulysses. Descending the palace stairs on the left, Circe greets Ulysses and offers him a magic potion. Previous to his arrival, the sorceress has given the same potion to Ulysses's men, who were then transformed into wild beasts. On the right, one man sports antlers while another one nearby is horrified to find his head changing into that of a wild boar. Unbeknownst to Circe, however, Ulysses has taken an herbal antidote given to him by Hermes. Ulysses will overcome the sorceress and force her to restore his men to their normal shape.
The tiny figures of Ulysses, Circe, and her entourage are secondary to the magnificently decorated palace, the lush landscape, and the assortment of lively animals. The painting is a collaborative effort of two painters: the Flemish artist Wilhelm Schubert van Ehrenberg, a specialist in depicting architecture, painted the palace and garden house, while the German artist Carl Borromäus Andreas Ruthart was responsible for the naturalistic display of animals in the foreground.