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.
- Romare Howard Bearden
- The Return of Odysseus (Homage to Pinturicchio and Benin)
- United States
- Collage comprised of cut-and-pasted papers, with graphite and touches of brush and black and gray wash, on wood panel
- 1,118 × 1,422 mm
- Mary and Leigh Block Fund
- © Romare Bearden Foundation / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.