• Artist: Nicolai Abildgaard
  • Creation date: 1787
  • Object type: Painting


The Danish artist Nicolai Abildgaard, who served as professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen from 1778 until his death, played a significant role in Scandinavian art for decades. Figure subjects dominate his oeuvre, and he was a pioneer in Danish romantic depictions of human figures. He was particularly interested in depicting narratives known from literature or mythology.

The small yet highly expressive painting Richard III depicts a dramatic scene wherein the English king awakes in fright. It is Shakespeare’s portrayal of the scene in his drama Richard III (act V, scene III) that has inspired Abildgaard: the king still has the nightmarish visions in his mind’s eye, and the many ghostly apparitions of his relatives are visible only to him. Abildgaard has composed the scene with dramatic lighting of Richard’s muscular, partially nude body. The king’s long, bristling hair and wild eyes accentuate the tension, strength, and movement of the painting. Several commentators have noted the similarities between Abildgaard’s depiction of Richard III and the Greco-Roman sculpture The Horse Tamers on the Quirinal Hill in Rome. The equine connection sprang perhaps readily to mind for Abildgaard, in that “Give me another horse” are the first words spoken by Richard III after waking from his nightmare.

Scholars have discussed whether the painting was rather inspired by another of Shakespeare’s dramas, namely Macbeth. But the coat-of-arms to the left of the figure depicts a boar, which was in fact Richard III’s own heraldic device and therefore incorporated in his coat-of-arms.

Text: Ellen J. Lerberg

From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0


Nicolai Abildgaard


Born 11.09.1743 in København, Danmark, death 04.06.1809 in Frederiksdal

Work info

Creation date:
Object type:
Materials and techniques:
Olje på lerret
  • Height: 38.4 cm
  • Depth: 2 cm
  • Width: 28.7 cm
Motif - type:
Kjøpt 1978
Inventory no.:
Cataloguing level:
Single object
Owner and collection:
Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, The Fine Art Collections
Høstland, Børre