Antoni Brodowski was already an esteemed professor in the Department of Fine Arts of the University of Warsaw when he produced his large-scale painting Oedipus and Antigone as a submission to a painting contest announced in 1823 in Warsaw by the Ministry of Religion and Public Education. The painting addressed a subject defined in the first category of the contest, which, in line with the erstwhile hierarchy of painting genres, covered compositions that were considered “lofty and academic.” The painting presents the final episode of the myth of King Oedipus, immortalised in Sophocles’ tragedy. Fulfilling the oracle’s prophecy, Oedipus, the ruler of Thebes, unwittingly killed his own father and wed his mother. The painting captures Oedipus just after he has learned the truth and blinded himself in despair, heading off into exile with the help of Antigone, his daughter and sister.

The remarkably harmonious composition exhibits a Classicist approach, evident in the posture of the characters modelled after antique sculptures, with a dash of Romanticism seen in the meticulous rendering of the blind man’s movement and in the aura of resolve and dignity emanating from his upright stance and solemn face. The painting’s first public display came during the 1828 Fine Arts Exhibition in Warsaw held at the university, recorded for posterity in the adjacent painting by Wincenty Kasprzycki, and it received the highest honours of all the works entered into the contest.

The 1823 contest also featured an entry by Aleksander Kokular addressing the same subject. On the opposite wall of the room, we see a painting depicting the interior of the salon in the artist’s home. The largest of the canvases visible in the painting is that very composition of Oedipus and Antigone.


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