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The Return of Odysseus (Homage to Pinturicchio and Benin)

A cool-toned, paper collage on a wooden panel depicting a number of black figures in a complex arrangement: in the foreground on the bottom left, a small, female figure spins wool; behind her a larger female figure works an upright loom. A bow and quiver hang above her head in the background. Across from the two women, a male figure strides across the frame to address the larger female figure. In the right foreground three male figures stand to the side, and in the far background a figure carrying a knife enters the room through a doorway. Most of the background is taken up by a large window framing a mountainous island and a ship with white sails.

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  • A cool-toned, paper collage on a wooden panel depicting a number of black figures in a complex arrangement: in the foreground on the bottom left, a small, female figure spins wool; behind her a larger female figure works an upright loom. A bow and quiver hang above her head in the background. Across from the two women, a male figure strides across the frame to address the larger female figure. In the right foreground three male figures stand to the side, and in the far background a figure carrying a knife enters the room through a doorway. Most of the background is taken up by a large window framing a mountainous island and a ship with white sails.

Date:

1977

Artist:

Romare Howard Bearden
American, 1911-1988

About this artwork

Romare Bearden based this work on Pintoricchio’s Italian Renaissance fresco titled The Return of Odysseus, using collage to bring various physical attributes inspired by Benin masks and sculptures into the classic Greek scene. This work is based on a scene in Homer’s The Odyssey, in which Odysseus finally returns home to find that he has been presumed dead and that suitors have been trying to take Penelope, his wife, as theirs. Disguised as a pauper, Odysseus convinces Penelope that she should hold a contest to see which of the many suitors can manage her husband’s bow. Through this competition he regains her hand in marriage.

In making this collage, Bearden sought to draw a link between Odysseus’s struggles and those of all African Americans. Bearden was the leader of “Spiral,” a group of artists based in Harlem committed to the advancement of African Americans during the Civil Rights movement. Benin gained independence from French rule in 1960, less than twenty years before this collage was made. By making the faces of the characters black instead of white as in the original fresco, Bearden endeavored to draw comparisons between the struggles of the Benin people and African Americans, and used the Greek epic to underscore the commonalities of all humans.

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Prints and Drawings

Artist

Romare Howard Bearden

Title

The Return of Odysseus (Homage to Pinturicchio and Benin)

Origin

United States

Date

1977

Medium

Collage comprised of cut-and-pasted papers, with graphite and touches of brush and black and gray wash, on wood panel

Dimensions

1,118 × 1,422 mm

Credit Line

Mary and Leigh Block Fund

Reference Number

1977.127

Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.

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