Oedipus and Antigone
Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg, Oedipus and Antigone, 1812, The National Museum in Stockholm.
In Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg’s painting Oedipus and Antigone, the image portrays Oedipus, a Greek King of Thebes, walking on a bridge with his daughter Antigone. As the painting demonstrates, Oedipus expresses a feeling of sadness by carrying a heavy burden on his shoulder. On the other hand, Antigone looks worried while guiding her father through the bridge. Eckersberg illustrates a sense of melancholy and sorrow in the painting, which also implies how Oedipus's tragic life will be. The fate of Oedipus is displayed through Eckersberg’s painting and his curse for committing the crime.
At the beginning of Oedipus’s life, he was born to King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes. The tragic story begins with a prophecy that Oedipus would one day kill his father and marrying his mother. After Laius and Jocasta acknowledge the foretelling, they decide to abandon Oedipus and leave him to die on Mt.Cithaeron (Morford et al. 415). The servant who sent Oedipus takes pity on the infant and passing him to the Corinthian shepherd. Later, the shepherd gives Oedipus to King Polybus and Queen Merope, who raise the baby as their own. Subsequently, Oedipus learns that the prophecy, and mistakenly thought he was meant to kill Polybus and Merope. Then, Oedipus left for Thebes to avoid the prophecy. However, he accidentally kills an old man on the road, who turns out to be his real father Laius. The curse is unknowingly fulfilled (Morford et al. 416). Arriving in Thebes, Oedipus encountered the monster Sphinx. To be able to save Thebes, Oedipus must answer the riddle. Oedipus succeeds and becomes the King of Thebes. Ironically, he once fulfilled the prophecy again for marrying his widowed mother (Morford et al. 416).
After gaining a better understanding of Oedipus, there is no doubt that he has been quite unfortunate because of his predestined fate. Oedipus has done everything he can to avoid the divine will. However, he kept falling under the curses and making all the mistakes. The story of Oedipus naturally brings the question of free will into the picture. Oedipus himself made all those choices but still fall into the predestined outcome. I believe that the tragedy of Oedipus has demonstrated that we, as human beings, are also not in control of our lives. No matter how hard we have tried to fight against what fate has predetermined for us, we still might fail every single time. It does not mean that we should not try our best to achieve our goals, but to understand and learn to accept failures.
The painting Oedipus vividly portrays Oedious’s after life. In the painting, Oedipus’s eyes are blind and he is guided by his daughter Antigone. This artwork cast conspicuous contrast with other artwork depicting his juvenile advantage. To better understand this painting, I shall elaborate more about his early life.
Oedipus was the son of Laius and Jocasta, who has the fate to kill his father and marry his mother given the oracle of Apollo (Morford et al. 414). Even though he was abandoned by his won parent and adopted by others. He still encountered his biological father-Jocasta on the journey to Thebes. He killed Jocasta before Jocasta’s charioteer tried to ran over him. Later he on his journey he also killed Sphinx. He became the king of Thebes and married the widowed queen Laius (Morford et al. 416). Prophesy of his fate was fulfilled without his notice. Without any surprise, Oedipus was in extreme pain when he found out the true and blind his own eyes before exile himself.
After learning about Oedipus’s early life, the lament depicted in the painting is sensible to us. Oedipus in this scene chooses to be independent and find his own life without interference from god’s will. Even though he is blind and even though he is old, he chooses to continue walking. The destination of his walk this time is to Colonus where he dies. The painting also gives us extra information about the relationship between Oedipus and his off-springs, while Antigone is the only child that accompanies Oedipus, the he must be abandoned by his other child. And there is a clear evidence to support my claim. In the chapter The end of the life of Oedipus, Oedipus when returns to Colons, he “disowns his sons, contrasting them with Antigone and Ismene, who have truly been loyal to him” (Morford et al. 422), when his son Polynices ask for his support to claim the throne of Thebes. Oedipus himself was not able to have a consummate family and this is the most tragic perspective of his life. Only his daughter brings some comfort to his misfortune.
The story of Oedipus shows that a mortal can never violates divine will. Thus, Oedipus is unwilling suffer from his evil fate. He is not the one to blame as he knows nothing about what he was doing. The painting not only aims to show the lament after life of Oedipus but also tries to convey his intransigent personality.
The painting Oedipus and Antigone (1812), painted by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg a Danish painter who is often regarded as the father of Danish painting, depicts a blind and old Oedipus, the king of Thebes, being guided by his daughter, Antigone, across a bridge. To fully grasp the meaning and emotions behind this piece, one must know the mythological story associated with it and how Eckersberg portrays Oedipus in this piece.
The mythological story of Oedipus, the tragic hero, begins when King Laius and Queen Jocasta of Thebes were told by the Oracle of Delphi that Laius would die at the hands of his son and that their son would marry his mother, Jocasta. In order to avoid fate, Laius drove spikes through his newborn son’s ankles and left him for dead on Mount Cithaeron; however, he was pitied by the servants that were trusted with the job so they gave him to a shepherd from Corinth. The Corinthian shepherd brought the infant to Polybus, the king of Corinth, where he was raised by Polybus and Merope, the queen of Corinth, who named him Oedipus (Morford et al. 414). When Oedipus finds out from the oracle about having to avoid his homeland as he would kill his father and marry his mother, so in an attempt to avoid Corinth, he took the road to Thebes from Delphi where on the way he murdered an old man, not knowing that it was his father. In Thebes, he manages to solve the Sphinx’s riddle and he becomes the king of Thebes then marries Queen Jocasta, who unbeknownst to him, is his mother. By trying to avoid fate, the people took preventative measures but still ended down the same path that they were trying to elude.
It is thought that perhaps that Oedipus and Antigone played a role in re-establishing Eckersberg’s self-confidence because he developed an inferiority complex as he was overwhelmed by the artistic treasures that were found in Paris while studying under Jacques-Louis David. However, a year after that, which was when the painting was created, he started to feel like he was fitting in with the artistic life of the city. An article on Eckersberg states:
The painting must have been one of his greatest challenges up until that point, especially when it came to creating a spatial effect in the composition through the interplay of light with strategically positioned image components. The high standard of the work shows that Eckersberg had reached a degree of maturity and fulfilled much of his potential... (Olsson and Tottmar)
Although Eckersberg illustrates Oedipus and Antigone to be melancholic, there is a sense of fondness between the two as Antigone guides her blind father with tenderness. Even though Eckersberg conveys the sorrow seen in Oedipus’ backstory, it is heartwarming to see his daughter helping him. The bright colors in this painting signify hope because even though Oedipus has been exiled and no longer has one of his senses, he still has his daughter to lead him and become his new set of eyes. Oedipus is depicted to be carrying clothing on his back while his daughter is walking freely representing the burden that he feels for having fulfilled the prophecy which led to his mother killing herself, the destruction of his family, and his exile.
Morford, Mark, et al. Classical Mythology. 11th ed., Oxford University Press, 2018.
Olsson, Carl-Johan, and Hanna Tottmar. “New Acquisition: Five Paintings by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg.” Mynewsdesk, 11 Nov. 2016, www.mynewsdesk.com/nationalmuseum/pressreleases/new-acquisition-five-paintings-by-christoffer-wilhelm-eckersberg-1643513. Accessed 2 Aug. 2021.