Study for Oedipus and the Sphinx
Graphite, marked with compass points, and squared for transfer
19 15/16 x 15 3/8 inches (507 x 390 mm)
Gift of the Ian Woodner Family Collection In Honor of the Seventy-fifth Anniversary of the Morgan Library, 1999
This study was executed in 1808 in preparation for Ingres's pièce réglementaire at the French Academy in Rome. The finished painting, now in the Musée du Louvre, was first displayed at the Villa Medici and then sent to Paris, where it was shown (after some retouching) in the Salon of 1824. Here, Oedipus, the king of Thebes, confronts the Sphinx in his quest for the truth about his birth and fate. In order to continue on his path, Oedipus must answer a riddle from this beautiful, but dangerous, repository of arcane wisdom. The Sphinx asks: "What goes on four feet, on two feet and three, but the more feet it goes on the weaker it be?" As indicated by the pile of bones in the foreground, those who answered incorrectly were devoured. The clever Oedipus, however, correctly answered: "Man, who goes on all fours as an infant and uses a stick in old age."