Nicolai Abildgaard’s ‘The Wounded Philoctetes’: The Colours and Genesis of a Danish Icon

Troels Folke Filtenborg, Annette Suleika Ortiz Miranda

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Nicolai Abildgaard (1743 – 1809) was the leading history painter and the most renowned Danish artist of his time, known for his somewhat erratic technique and interchanging methods of painting. However, little is known about the extent to which this applies to his early production and, more specifically, to The Wounded Philoctetes at the National Gallery of Denmark (SMK), probably his most famous painting. Executed in 1775 while Abildgaard was studying in Rome, the painting is an impressive achievement and contributed to the making of his career. A striking composition in dimension, character and technique, the painting nonetheless has a tonality and colours which are unusual in Abildgaard’s oeuvre.
This study focuses on using non-invasive analytical techniques to increase the knowledge of Nicolai Abildgaard’s painting technique and, specifically, The Wounded Philoctetes. The results of macro X-ray fluorescence (MA-XRF) and Fiber Optic Reflectance Spectroscopy (FORS) analyses, together with X-ray radiography (XRR), are presented. Among the results, the palette, compositional changes, and the unusual occurrence of powdered gold are discussed.
Translated title of the contributionNicolai Abildgaards 'Den sårede Filoktet': Et dansk ikons farver og tilblivelse
Original languageEnglish
JournalMeddelelser om Konservering
Issue number2023
Pages (from-to)15-23
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Nicolai Abildgaard
  • MA-XRF
  • FORS
  • non-destructive analyses
  • Pigments
  • Painting technique
  • Powdered gold
  • Philoctetes

Cite this