(b. 1743, København, d. 1809, Frederiksdal)

The Wounded Philoctetes

Oil on canvas, 123 x 178 cm
Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

From 1772 Abildgaard spent five years in Rome thanks to a scholarship granted by the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. It was while in Rome that he created this depiction of the legendary hero Philoctetes, whose screams of pain caused by a festering snakebite made his comrades-in-arms abandon him on a Greek island during the Trojan war.

Abildgaard used a principal work of classical sculpture as the basis for his rendition of Philoctetes' tormented state: the Torso Belvedere in the Vatican museum served as the model for the plastic and mannered rendition of the hero's upper body. With this move, Abildgaard's stylistic innovation was imbued with features of a work canonised by neoclassicism - without, however, reducing the tensions in the painting.