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Pencil Drawing - The Question, the Sphinx

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Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery

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Basic Information

Accession Number:1904P239
Collection:Fine Art Prints and Drawings
Date:1875 - 1875

Maker Information

Artist:Dante Gabriel Rossetti - View biography for Dante Gabriel Rossetti


This drawing deals with the mythological tale of the riddle of the Sphinx. The answer to her question: 'What walks on four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening?' is Man (in infancy, adulthood and old age, walking with a stick). Here Youth is shown dying, Man is staring at the Sphinx and Age is climbing the rock.

The idea to have Youth dying may have been prompted by the premature death of Oliver, son of Ford Madox Brown, at the age of only nineteen in November 1874. W. B. Scott claims to have suggested the subject of the Sphinx to Rossetti (Reminiscences, vol. 2, p. 3). Rossetti may have intended to produce a painting on the subject, but none was ever begun.

There is an earlier preliminary drawing in the Fogg Museum of Art, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Purchased and presented by subscribers, 1903.

Further Information

Production Period:19th century
Medium:Pencil on paper.


Height:480 mm
Width:415 mm