The picture is one of the principal works of Norwegian historical painting, and depicts a scene from the early sixteenth century, when Norway was under Danish rule. The nobleman Torben Oxe’s death warrant from 1517 had political ramifications and led indirectly to the fall of Christian II.
The painting depicts the psychologically intense moment when the king, obviously in doubt, decides whether or not to effectuate the warrant. To his right stands his advisor Didrik Slagheck, who hands him a quill pen for signing the document; on his left, Queen Isabella looks at him with teary eyes, clearly wanting him not to do so. Both figures lean in toward the king – Slagheck in black and the queen in white, symbolizing the battle of good versus evil.
The shallow pictorial space is dense with figures: in addition to the three main protagonists, no less than seven people are pressed together in the right half of the picture, with the red-clad cardinal serving as the centrepiece and creating the sense of perspective. The picture evinces how Eilif Peterssen at the time was stylistically influenced by the Munich school and by his studies of Venetian Renaissance painting; this is seen in the intricate details, materiality, warm colour scheme, and contrast between the light and dark sections. The artist prepared well for the painting and studied the historical sources and previous depictions of the king.
Peterssen mastered a variety of genres. In addition to historical painting he also painted landscapes and genre motifs, and he excelled in portraiture.
Text: Marianne Yvenes
From "Highlights. Art from Antiquity to 1945", Nasjonalmuseet 2014, ISBN 978-82-8154-088-0