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Oedipus and the Sphinx
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres

Oedipus stands before the Sphinx, who challenges him to solve a riddle before he can enter the city of Thebes, just visible in the distance. The skull and bones at the bottom of the picture show the fate of those who have previously failed the test. According to legend, Oedipus answers correctly and he becomes King of Thebes.

Ingres had painted a larger version of this picture in 1808, which is now in the Louvre, Paris. He later enlarged the canvas and reworked the composition, and it is likely that the National Gallery’s painting is a developed sketch for these revisions.

Oedipus and the Sphinx clearly shows Ingres’s attraction to the classical world, whether as a source for stories or as a source for a deliberately classical artistic style. Here, Oedipus’s pose is based upon an ancient Greek statue of Hermes, while the shallow space and figures in profile recall Greek vases.

Key facts
Artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
Artist dates 1780 - 1867
Full title Oedipus and the Sphinx
Date made about 1826
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 17.5 x 13.7 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1918
Inventory number NG3290
Location in Gallery Room 45
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