Gilded Bronze Hercules

Gilded Bronze Hercules

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Gilded Bronze Hercules - History

Like the Augustus and the Mercury Fountain, the Hercules Fountain, created by Adriaen de Vries, embodies Augsburg’s pride in its wealth of water resources. The Kastenturm at the Red Gate was erected as an additional water tower to supply water for the fountains.

Building history and description

  • Monumental fountain in the style of late Mannerism
  • marble pillars
  • bronze figures
  • orienation to Giambologna
  • originally public drinking and running fountain
  • since the establishment of the fountain grid (early 18th century) showpiece, original gratin obtained today removed
  • Augsburg, city center, Maximilianstraße (former wine market), Maximilianstraße 65 (at the Schaezlerpalais)
  • creation 1596-1600
  • commissioning 1602
  • pillar renewed 1826
  • restoration and casting 1997-1999
  • casting of secondary figures until 2002
  • original bronzes in the Maximilian Museum
  • sculptor Adriaen de Vries, foundry Wolfgang Neidhardt
  • 3.47 m high bronze figure group of Hercules with the flame mace and the seven-headed Hydra, all-view
  • on two-storey fountain pillars staggered in four levels, three naked, washing life-sized Naiads on shell pools
  • three gosling Eroten with Attributes Cupid
  • three as Tritons (water deities) interpreted busts
  • three lion masks
  • three gilded bronze reliefs on the pillar (scenes of the Roman-mythological city history: founding of the city, entry of the city goddess Augusta, alliance of Roma and Augusta)

Use and purpose

  • Hercules as a strong, courageous conqueror of the water (Hydra = water snake) and symbol of the hydrological achievements (heroic-mythological "Master Builder")
  • courtly character (Hercules usually as a virtuous ruling laurels), theatrical, suspenseful and cross-platform
  • Tension field of virtue ideals: courageous fight (Hercules, Hydra) and playful grace (Naiads), so that unambiguous interpretation is not possible
  • Placement on Weinmarkt (central fairground of the imperial city of Augsburg) makes Brunnen a glorification of the city's history and genius loci Augsburg
  • so-called "Prachtbrunnen" or grand fountain as forerunner of the city's extensive "urban program" of Augsburg around 1600 as well as artistically high-quality representation of the water system
  • worldwide unique trias of monumental fountains forms a unity
  • water was supplied through the box tower of the waterworks at the Red Gate

Authenticity and unique features

  • Fountain bronzes in their best condition, original bronzes due to environmental threats and vandalism today museum exhibits (but this does not contradict the UNESCO requirement of authenticity)
  • Regular care by the city of Augsburg
  • winter protection cover
  • fountain grid received, but not appropriate
  • Manneristic artwork of European renown, Triassic splendor fountain in this form unique in the world
  • Glorification of the water through very expensive material Bronze illustrates the significance of the water system for Augsburg

The Heroic Labors of Hercules

Apollo understood that Hercules’ crime had not been his fault—Hera’s vengeful actions were no secret𠅋ut still he insisted that the young man make amends. He ordered Hercules to perform 12 “heroic labors” for the Mycenaen king Eurystheus. Once Hercules completed every one of the labors, Apollo declared, he would be absolved of his guilt and achieve immortality.

The Nemean Lion
First, Apollo sent Hercules to the hills of Nemea to kill a lion that was terrorizing the people of the region. (Some storytellers say that Zeus had fathered this magical beast as well.) Hercules trapped the lion in its cave and strangled it. For the rest of his life, he wore the animal’s pelt as a cloak.

The Lernaean Hydra
Second, Hercules traveled to the city of Lerna to slay the nine-headed Hydra𠅊 poisonous, snake-like creature who lived underwater, guarding the entrance to the Underworld. For this task, Hercules had the help of his nephew Iolaus. He cut off each of the monster’s heads while Iolaus burned each wound with a torch. This way, the pair kept the heads from growing back.The Golden HindNext, Hercules set off to capture the sacred pet of the goddess Diana: a red deer, or hind, with golden antlers and bronze hooves. Eurystheus had chosen this task for his rival because he believed that Diana would kill anyone she caught trying to steal her pet however, once Hercules explained his situation to the goddess, she allowed him to go on his way without punishment.

The Erymanthean Boar
Fourth, Hercules used a giant net to snare the terrifying, man-eating wild boar of Mount Erymanthus.

The Augean StablesHercules’ fifth task was supposed to be humiliating as well as impossible: cleaning all the dung out of King Augeas’ enormous stables in a single day. However, Hercules completed the job easily, flooding the barn by diverting two nearby rivers.

The Stymphlaian Birds
Hercules’ sixth task was straightforward: Travel to the town of Stymphalos and drive away the huge flock of carnivorous birds that had taken up residence in its trees. This time, it was the goddess Athena who came to the hero’s aid: She gave him a pair of magical bronze krotala, or noisemakers, forged by the god Hephaistos. Hercules used these tools to frighten the birds away.

The Cretan Bull
Next, Hercules went to Crete to capture a rampaging bull that had impregnated the wife of the island’s king. (She later gave birth to the Minotaur, a creature with a man’s body and a bull’s head.) Hercules drove the bull back to Eurystheus, who released it into the streets of Marathon.

The Horses of Diomedes
Hercules’ eighth challenge was to capture the four man-eating horses of the Thracian king Diomedes. He brought them to Eurystheus, who dedicated the horses to Hera and set them free.

Hippolyte’s Belt
The ninth labor was complicated: stealing an armored belt that belonged to the Amazon queen Hippolyte. At first, the queen welcomed Hercules and agreed to give him the belt without a fight. However, the troublemaking Hera disguised herself as an Amazon warrior and spread a rumor that Hercules intended to kidnap the queen. To protect their leader, the women attacked the hero’s fleet then, fearing for his safety, Hercules killed Hippolyte and ripped the belt from her body.

The Cattle of Geryon
For his 10th labor, Hercules was dispatched nearly to Africa to steal the cattle of the three-headed, six-legged monster Geryon. Once again, Hera did all she could to prevent the hero from succeeding, but eventually he returned to Mycenae with the cows.

The Apples of Hesperides
Next, Eurystheus sent Hercules to steal Hera’s wedding gift to Zeus: a set of golden apples guarded by a group of nymphs known as the Hesperides. This task was difficult—Hercules needed the help of the mortal Prometheus and the god Atlas to pull it off𠅋ut the hero eventually managed to run away with the apples. After he showed them to the king, he returned them to the gods’ garden where they belonged.

For his final challenge, Hercules traveled to Hades to kidnap Cerberus, the vicious three-headed dog that guarded its gates. Hercules managed to capture Cerberus by using his superhuman strength to wrestle the monster to the ground. Afterward, the dog returned unharmed to his post at the entrance to the Underworld.

Robber Barons

Railroad tycoons were just one of many types of so-called robber barons that emerged in the Gilded Age.

These men used union busting, fraud, intimidation, violence and their extensive political connections to gain an advantage over any competitors. Robber barons were relentless in their efforts to amass wealth while exploiting workers and ignoring standard business rules𠅊nd in many cases, the law itself.

They soon accumulated vast amounts of money and dominated every major industry including the railroad, oil, banking, timber, sugar, liquor, meatpacking, steel, mining, tobacco and textile industries.

Some wealthy entrepreneurs such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and Henry Frick are often referred to as robber barons but may not exactly fit the mold. While it’s true they built huge monopolies, often by crushing any small business or competitor in their way, they were also generous philanthropists who didn’t always rely on political ploys to build their empires.

Some tried to improve life for their employees, donated millions to charities and nonprofits and supported their communities by providing funding for everything from libraries and hospitals to universities, public parks and zoos.

P256 Aedes Herculis Victoris

Hercules Victor, aedes : a temple vowed by Lucius Mummius in 145 B.C. , and dedicated in 142 by Mummius when censor, if we may accept the p257 evidence of an inscription found on the Caelian behind the Lateran hospital ( CIL I 2 626 = VI .331: L. Mummi ( us ) L. f. Cos. duct [ u ] auspicio imperioque eius Achaia capt [ a ] Corinto deleto Romam redieit triumphans ob hasce res bene gestas quod in bello voverat hanc aedem et signu [ m ] Herculis Victoris imperator dedicat ). Another inscription ( CIL VI .30888 ) found near SS. Quattro Coronati may refer to this temple which was probably on the Caelian in this vicinity ( HJ 227 DE III .701 RE VIII .578 Rosch. I .2920).

Hercules Victor ( Invictus ), aedes : a round temple of Hercules in the forum Boarium (Liv. X .23.3: in sacello Pudicitiae patriciae quae in foro Boario est ad aedem rotundam Herculis Fest. 242 Macrob. III .6.10: Romae autem Victoris Herculis aedes duae sunt, una ad portam Trigeminam altera in foro Boario ). It was decorated with frescoes𔁯 by the poet Pacuvius (Plin. NH XXXV .19), and is probably the temple into which neither flies nor dogs were said to enter (ibid. X .79: Romae in aedem Herculis in foro Boario nec muscae nec canes intrant ). The fact that this same story is found in Solinus ( I .10), who speaks of a consaeptum sacellum , and in Plutarch ( q. Rom. 90: ἐντὸς τῶν περιβόλων ), makes it somewhat uncertain whether it was told originally of the precinct of the Ara Maxima (q.v.) , or of this temple.

The passage in Festus (242: Pudicitiae signum in foro bovario est ubi familiana aedisset Herculis ) has occasioned much discussion. If Scaliger's emendation — ubi Aemiliana aedis est Herculis — is accepted, the natural inference would be that the round temple of Hercules was restored by L. Aemilius Paullus (Jord. I .2.483, n58 WR 275, n4 RE VIII .556, 557, 558, 560 Rosch. I .2903, 2904, 2905, 2909). This emendation, however, is purely conjectural (see Pudicitia Patricia). If Tacitus (Ann. XV .41: et magna ara fanumque quae praesenti Herculi Arcas Evander sacraverat ) is referring to this temple, as some believe, it was injured in the fire under Nero, but it must have been restored very soon, and Pacuvius' frescoes must have been preserved (Plin. loc. cit. ).

During the pontificate of Sixtus IV (1471‑1484) the remains of a round temple near S. Maria in Cosmedin were destroyed, but the building is referred to by archaeologists of the period ( e.g. Pomponius Laetus, Albertinus). A drawing made a little later (1503‑1513) by Baldassare Peruzzi,𔁰 of the plan and fragments (Vat. Lat. 3439, f. 32 De Rossi, Ann. d. Inst. 1854, pl. 3 Altm. 33‑36), shows a structure not unlike the existing round temple which is the church of S. Maria del Sole.​a This temple stood just north of the Piazza di Bocca della Verità, between it and the Piazza dei Cerchi, north-west of the probable site of the ara Maxima ( DAP, 242 sq. ). The discovery of the gilded bronze statue of Hercules, of the second century A.D. ( HF 1005 Cons. 282), p258 258 caused it to be identified with the aedes rotunda of Livy, an identification assisted by the further discovery in the immediate vicinity of a series of dedicatory inscriptions to Hercules Invictus ( CIL VI .312 ‑319). These inscriptions, however, might belong to the Ara Maxima (q.v.) .

The relations, topographical and historical, between the different shrines of Hercules in and near the forum Boarium, are by no means clear, and the problems involved have given rise to a considerable literature. (For this temple and for the general subject, see especially De Rossi, Ann. d. Inst. 1854, 28‑38 RE VIII .552‑563 Rosch. I .2901‑2920 also Jord. I .2.479‑483 Gilb. III .433‑434 JRS 1919, 180 CIL I 2 p150, 505 Boll. Ass. Arch. Rom. V . (1915) 108‑129.)​b

The Authors' Notes:

1 Urlichs, Malerei vor Caesar , 17, prefers to explain ' pictura ' as a panel.

2 It is from the St. Germain MS. of Ligorio that we learn this: Panvinio (Vat. Lat. cit. ) does not mention the fact (Altm. cit. ).

Thayer's Note:

a Platner is not the clearest writer, sometimes: the church of S. Maria del Sole is the surviving temple, not the one that was destroyed. For an outline of the Christian history of this building, as S. Stefano Rotondo, S. Stefano alle Carrozze, and S. Maria del Sole, see the article S. Stephanus Rotundus in Christian Hülsen's Chiese di Roma nel Medio Evo. (And no, that article is not about the church now called S. Stefano Rotondo, with which our building was frequently confused.)

A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY if its URL has a total of one * asterisk. If the URL has two ** asterisks, the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use. If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.

Temple of Venus Victrix

Besides the fact that it sat at the top of the cavea and was dedicated to the goddess Venus Victrix, not much is known about the temple in Pompey’s theatrical complex. The common consensus among scholars is that it was very large and ornate, rising above the roof of cavea, and protruding out the back of the theatre (figs. 2 & 7). However, Richardson argues that the size and form of the Temple has been exaggerated, largely due to misinterpretation of the Forma Urbis Romae fragments (Richardson 1987: 124-6) . He claims that the rectangular structure protruding from the back of the theatre on the plan is in fact a street (fig. 6), and that the temple was instead of modest architecture, harmonious with the rest of the cavea (Richardson 1987: 124-6) . Gagliardo and Packer, who led excavations of the Theatre in 2002 and 2003, critique Richardson, arguing that there is indeed archaeological evidence for its existence (Gagliardo and Packer 2006: 115) . This disagreement in modern scholarship again highlights the need for caution when using modern reconstructions.

Gilded Bronze Hercules - History

Antonio Pollaiuolo

(b Florence, c. 1432 d Rome, ?4 Feb 1498).

Sculptor, painter, designer and engraver. He was trained as a goldsmith and bronze sculptor, probably in Lorenzo Ghiberti’s workshop. In 1466 he joined the Arte della Seta, the silkworkers’ guild (to which goldsmiths traditionally belonged), and he listed himself as a goldsmith and painter in the membership records of the Compagnia di S Luca in 1473 this is the only documented reference to him as a painter. In his tax return in 1480 he reported that he was renting a workshop specifically for goldsmiths’ work. He still described himself as a goldsmith, and not as a painter, in his last tax return in 1496.

Hercules and Anteus

Bronze, height: 45 cm
Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

Shared Flashcard Set

Duccio di Buoninsegna: Virgin and Child Enthroned with Saints.

Tempera and gold leaf on wood.

Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi: Annunciation altarpiece

Tempera and gold leaf on wood, center panel.

Pietro Lorenzetti: Birth of the Virgin (altarpiece of Saint Savinus, Siena Cathedral)

Ambrogio Lorenzetti: Peaceful City. (from the Effects of Good Government in the City and in the Country).

Sala della Pace in Siena Italy. 1338-1339.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Peaceful Country

Arnolfo di Cambio (and others), Santa Maria del Fiore and the Baptistery of San Giovanni

Florence, Italy. begun 1296

Campanile designed by Giotto

Robert Campin: Mérode Altarpiece (open)

Claus Sluter: Well of Moses

Painted and gilded limestone

Hubert and Jan van Eyck: Ghent Altarpiece (closed)

Hubert and Jan van Eyck: Ghent Altarpiece (open)

Jan van Eyck: Giovanni Arnolfini and his Wife

Jan van Eyck: Man in a Red Turban

Rogier van der Weyden: Deposition

Rogier van der Weyden: Saint Luke drawing the Virgin

Hugo van der Goes: Portinari Altarpiece (open)

Limbourg brothers: January

Limbourg brothers: October

Michael Wolgemut: Madeburga page from Nuremberg Chronicle.

Martin Schongauer: Saint Anthony Tormented by Demons

Sandro Botticelli: Primavera

Filippo Brunelleschi: Sacrifice of Isaac

San Giovanni, Florence. 1401-1402

Lorenzo Ghiberti: Sacrifice of Isaac

competition panel for baptistery

Or San Michele, Florence, Italy. 1411-1413.

Or San Michele, Florence. 1410-1415.

Donatello: Saint George and the Dragon

Relief below statue of Saint George in Or San Michele, Florence. 1417. Marble

Lorenzo Ghiberti: Gates of Paradise (East doors of Baptistery of San Giovanni)


Riccio was celebrated in Padua as an ancient sculptor reborn. This athlete bearing a curved strigil (skin scraper) and oil vial used for grooming the body is Riccio&rsquos interpretation of a bronze statue (known solely through ancient texts) by the Greek sculptor Lysippus.

The Strigil Bearer&rsquos torso is classically idealized, but his face possesses a mature introspective complexity that is Riccio&rsquos novel contribution to the antique tradition. The recent cleaning of the statuette reveals minute, shallow hammer strokes that cause light to flicker over the bronze and animate the figure.

All images by Maggie Nimkin Photography

Attributed to Hermes Flavius de Bonis, called Lysippus (Padua ca. 1450/55&ndashafter 1526 Gazzuolo, Italy)
Hercules Resting
Cast early 1490s
9 1/4 in. (23.5 cm)

In the university town of Padua, the noble courts of Mantua and Rome, and Medici Florence, erudite collectors prized bronze statuettes for their evocation of the vanished grandeur of antiquity.

Attributed to the scholar and portrait-medalist Hermes Flavius de Bonis, Hercules Resting is a recreation of a lost, monumental bronze statue by Lysippus that was known from classical copies. By assuming the nickname &ldquoLysippus,&rdquo the medalist compared his artistry to that of Alexander the Great&rsquos personal sculptor.

Attributed to Maso Finiguerra (Florence 1426&ndash1464 Florence)
Hercules and Antaeus
Cast ca. 1460
9 7/8 in. (25.2 cm)

This miniature recreation of a monumental, fragmentary ancient Roman marble depicts the moment when Hercules defeats Antaeus by hoisting the giant off the ground and breaking his back in his arms. In a tour-de-force of bronze casting that rivals a Herculean feat, the sculptor has composed the figure group to balance on its own without support.

The compositional daring and emotional power of this statuette is inversely proportional to its size. Its superlative detail indicates that its author, like many Renaissance masters of bronze, was trained as a goldsmith.

Unknown Italian artist
Écorché or Artist&rsquos Model for St. Bartholomew or St. Jerome
First half of sixteenth century
11 7/8 in. (30.3 cm)

Intended as models for both fellow artists and physicians, écorchés (flayed figures) challenged Renaissance sculptors to articulate the body&rsquos exposed muscles and delineate their interaction. This figure, who rests his foot upon a skull, may be the apostle Bartholomew who was martyred by flaying. His large, closed eyes&mdashunusual for an écorché&mdashand expression of longing transform an anatomical model into a compelling work of art.

Willem Danielsz. van Tetrode (Delft? ca. 1525&ndash1580 Wedinghausen, Germany)
Samson Slaying a Philistine
Probably modeled in Florence in 1562
14.5 inches (37.5 cm)
Not in catalogue

Wielding the jawbone of an ass, the biblical hero Samson slew thousands of Philistine warriors, and in Medici Florence, he symbolized princely power. This work was modeled by the Dutch marble carver Tetrode to demonstrate his skill. The interlocked nudes form a pyramid that rests on a four-square base, a stable composition suggesting that Tetrode may have intended this group for a monumental marble. If so, it would have rivalled Michelangelo&rsquos uncompleted statue of the subject.

Like many sculptors of his generation, Tetrode often transformed his models into statuettes. This recently discovered, unique bronze &mdash the latest addition to the Hill collection &mdash testifies to Tetrode&rsquos mastery as he vied with his younger contemporary, Giambologna, for Medici patronage. The elegant kneeling figure in Giambologna&rsquos nearby Rape of a Sabine rhetorically echoes the tragic struggle of Tetrode&rsquos defeated Philistine.

Giambologna (Douai, France ca. 1529&ndash1608 Florence)
Cast early 1570s
15 1/4 in. (38.8 cm)

Given as gifts by Florentine Medici princes to rulers across Europe, Giambologna&rsquos statuettes influenced a generation of sculptors. This personification of Astronomy stands in a hipshot pose, leaning on a plinth and resting her foot above a celestial globe. Her sinuous rotation invites viewers to admire her in the round.

Giambologna invented this groundbreaking type of composition, called a figura serpentinata, in which figures &ldquotwist like flames&rdquo and are equally beautiful from every vantage point. The bold rendering of Astronomy&rsquos body, features, hair, and drapery preserves the freshness of Giambologna&rsquos original wax model.

Giambologna (Douai, France ca. 1529&ndash1608 Florence)
Cast 1573, by Girolamo di Zanobi Portigiani
Bronze, with original oval base
8 1/2 x 10 1/4 in. (21.7 x 26 cm)

Surviving ancient small bronzes of sacrificial bulls are not uncommon, and this statuette may have been created in emulation of them. The bull&rsquos majestic proportions and noble bearing may also reflect its use as an emblem by Cosimo I, the founder of the grand ducal Medici dynasty. This is a pristine bronze cast &mdash its details were not sharpened in the metal with engraving tools. The hair on the bull&rsquos head, his fleshy dewlap, swishing tail, and quizzical gaze capture the vitality of Giambologna&rsquos original wax model.

Giambologna (Douai, France ca. 1529&ndash1608 Florence)
Pacing Horse
Cast ca. 1573&ndash77, by Girolamo di Zanobi Portigiani
9 7/8 x 11 1/4 in. (25.1 x 28.7 cm)

This Renaissance warhorse is powerful in proportion, disciplined in stride, and immaculately groomed from clipped mane to bound tail. By depicting a riderless steed, Giambologna celebrates the innate nobility of horses, affording his subject the same status as classically idealized nudes. Like the Bull, this cast captures the vibrant syncopation of contour and form that is characteristic of Giambologna&rsquos early bronzes.

The statuette derives from Giambologna&rsquos small preparatory models for the monumental bronze equestrian portrait of Cosimo I (Piazza della Signoria, Florence) that was commissioned by his son, Francesco I de&rsquo Medici.

Antonio Susini (Florence 1558&ndash1624 Florence)
Hercules Slaying a Centaur
After a model by Giambologna, cast ca. 1600&ndash1610
15 3/4 in. (40.2 cm)

Rotating his body like a fulcrum, Hercules pins down the centaur while swinging his club. The centaur&rsquos forelegs collapse as he struggles against the killing blow. Dramatic force builds when the sculpture is viewed in the round, culminating in the contrast between the hero&rsquos concentration and the centaur&rsquos scream.

Giambologna created this model for a large-scale marble sculpture (Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence) commissioned by Grand Duke Francesco I de&rsquo Medici. A silver version (now lost), of similar size to this statuette, was displayed in the ducal state offices. Giambologna&rsquos principal assistant, the goldsmith Antonio Susini, popularized the composition in bronze casts.

Antonio Susini (Florence 1558&ndash1624 Florence)
Rape of a Sabine
After Giambologna&rsquos marble group of 1583, cast ca. 1585
23 1/4 in. (59 cm)

Giambologna&rsquos monumental marble Rape of a Sabine (Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence) features three intertwined figures that allow no single dominant viewpoint. He claimed that he had created it solely to &ldquodemonstrate the excellence of his art,&rdquo and it was, in fact, immediately celebrated as his crowning achievement. Bronze reductions, such as this early example from the master&rsquos workshop, spread the statue&rsquos fame. Giambologna invented this unprecedented figure group by fashioning small wax and clay models that he rotated on his work stand to judge the composition from every angle.

Antonio Susini (Florence 1558&ndash1624 Florence)
Cristo Morto (The Dead Christ on the Cross)
After a model by Giambologna of ca. 1588, cast ca. 1590&ndash1615
Gilt bronze
12 1/4 in. (31 cm)

Giambologna modeled this figure of the dead Christ as a lithe, beautiful nude whose crucified body retains a sense of vibrant animation. His principal assistant, the goldsmith Antonio Susini, cast the model in bronze and tooled the metal&rsquos surface with delicate precision. Brilliant gilding in precious gold honors the divine character of Christ&rsquos sacrificial death.

The sculpture&rsquos preciosity and quiet contemplative mood reflect Italian Renaissance traditions of religious devotion. The gilt-bronze Christ is compared with Giovanni di Paolo&rsquos exquisite panel of almost two centuries earlier, which depicts the dead Savior framed within a celestial field of gold. As the Man of Sorrows, Christ displays his mortal wounds to symbolize the perpetual nature of his living sacrifice.

Antonio Susini (Florence 1558&ndash1624 Florence)
After a model by Giambologna of ca. 1565&ndash70, cast ca. 1600&ndash1608
15 5/8 in. (39.5 cm)

Sighting the enemy, Mars halts his stride and swings his sword arm backward to attack. This statuette of the god of war symbolized princely power.

As sculptor to the Medici grand dukes of Florence, Giambologna established the benchmark for the late Renaissance bronze statuette. Mars is a superb example of the many that were cast from Giambologna&rsquos model by his principal assistant, Antonio Susini. The figure&rsquos polished craftsmanship and details, such as the refined engraving of Mars&rsquos eyes and furrowed brow, evidence Susini&rsquos skill.

A video created by the Victoria and Albert Museum illustrates the method used to cast the Mars.

Lost Wax Bronze Casting
Duration: 5 minutes
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Antonio Susini (Florence 1558&ndash1624 Florence)
Sleeping Venus
After a model by Giambologna of ca. 1584, cast ca. 1600&ndash1615
8 1/4 x 12 1/4 in. (21 x 31 cm)

A classical Roman marble known as the Sleeping Ariadne inspired the pose of this Venus. Her slumbering, outflung abandon is Giambologna&rsquos invention. The smooth precision of the figure, the angular drapery, and the detailed engraving of the eyes, fingernails, and embroidery are hallmarks of the bronzes that were cast and tooled by Giambologna&rsquos principal assistant, the goldsmith Antonio Susini. Susini conveys the sensuous effects of flesh pressed against pillows and drapery folded by the motions of sleep. Emblazoned on Venus&rsquos couch is a winged skull &mdash a reminder that death is the companion of sleep and that sensual life is fleeting.

Antonio Susini (Florence 1558&ndash1624 Florence) and
Gianfrancesco Susini (Florence 1585&ndash1653 Florence)
Hercules and the Hydra
After a model by Giambologna of before 1582, cast ca. 1614&ndash24
15 3/8 in. (39 cm)

In the Renaissance, Hercules&rsquos exemplary feats &mdash the Twelve Labors &mdash symbolized princely virtue. This composition was modeled by Giambologna for a series of silver statuettes (now lost) for the state offices of the Medici grand dukes in Florence.

Hercules grasps the hydra&rsquos tail and twists around to take aim at its snapping heads. The battle&rsquos spiraling tension will explode with the downward smash of Hercules&rsquos club. The composition&rsquos taut contours and tiny details, like the veins on Hercules&rsquos hands, suggest that the bronze was cast by Giambologna&rsquos principal assistant, Antonio Susini. The matte punching on the hydra&rsquos heads, probably executed by Antonio&rsquos nephew, Gianfrancesco, creates the illusion of delicate scales.

Gianfrancesco Susini (Florence 1585&ndash1653 Florence)
Hercules and Antaeus
After a model by Giambologna, cast ca. 1625-1650
16 1/8 in. (41 cm)

This bronze derives from Giambologna's models for a series of silver statuettes depicting the Twelve Labors of Hercules (now lost). Giambologna's principal assistant, Antonio Susini, and Antonio's nephew, Gianfrancesco, inherited the master's molds, reworked the models, and cast them in bronze well into the seventeenth century.

Gianfrancesco depicts Hercules wrestling the giant Antaeus with a robust naturalism that differs from the refined elegance of his uncle's earlier Hercules and the Hydra. The difference between these works marks the transition from the late Renaissance to the Baroque style in Florence. Only two rods beneath Hercules's feet support the hero as he crushes the howling giant within his arms.

Ferdinando Tacca (Florence 1619&ndash1686 Florence)
Ceres and Bacchus
Cast probably ca. 1635&ndash40
17 3/4 in. (45.3 cm)

The smiling goddess of the harvest and the lord of the vine stride forward, heralding the promise of abundance, revelry, and love. Tacca&rsquos statuette, like those by Piamontini in this gallery, exemplifies the novel subjects and immaculate craftsmanship that are characteristic of the finest Florentine Baroque bronzes. Ceres and Bacchus are united by their gaze and affectionate embrace and by the formal repetition of their graceful linear contours.

In Cy Twombly&rsquos untitled &ldquoChalkboard&rdquo painting, lines drawn in continuously curving loops create a syncopated effect that harmonizes with the elegant rhythm of Tacca&rsquos figures. The subdued palette of this and the other two canvases displayed here also draws attention to the often overlooked beauty of the varied colors of bronze sculptures.

Giuseppe Piamontini (Florence 1664&ndash1742 Florence)
Prince Ferdinando di Cosimo III on Horseback
Cast by 1717
24 5/8 in. (62.5 cm)

Ferdinando, Grand Prince of Tuscany, is wigged and armored in the French style to associate his rule with the divine right of kings. He wields the baton of command as casually as he controls the fierce steed, underscoring his power. Piamontini&rsquos virtuoso statuette of a ruler on a rearing horse was unprecedented in Florence. The daring design and flawless execution of this bronze reflect his artistic mastery, as well as the sitter&rsquos sovereignty.

In the same gallery, Ed Ruscha&rsquos expansive 1988 canvas Seventeenth Century rhetorically combines word and image to capture the tenor of a world dominated by the absolutist rule celebrated in Piamontini&rsquos portrait.

Giuseppe Piamontini (Florence 1664&ndash1742 Florence)
Seated Hercules and Cerberus
Cast ca. 1715&ndash25
20 7/8 x 13 3/8 x 11 in. (53 x 34 x 28 cm)

Hercules has subdued Cerebus, the three-headed guardian of Hades, who howls in anger and bites the hero&rsquos club. The pyramidal massing of figures makes Hercules appear as if he is a muscular mountain of bronze. The statuette&rsquos sheer bulk contrasts with its precise tooling. Matte punches were used to differentiate textures and chisels to establish vibrating linear rhythms.

Piamontini&rsquos formal exploitation of the weightiness of bronze and his elegant working of its surface resonate with the 1959 painting displayed nearby, in which Cy Twombly plays the heavy roughness of thickly applied paint against delicately drawn calligraphic inscriptions.

Giuseppe Piamontini (Florence 1664&ndash1742 Florence)
Hercules and Iolaus Slaying the Hydra
After a model by Alessandro Algardi of ca. 1630, cast ca. 1700&ndash1720
12 3/4 x 9 1/8 in. (32.5 x 23 cm)

Hercules vanquished the hydra by lopping off its magically regenerating heads while his nephew Iolaus sealed the stumps with flames. Here, the figures circle around the twisting monster as Iolaus gazes in terror, not knowing if the battle can be won. Piamontini adapted this composition from a large-scale sculpture by Alessandro Algardi. He finished the bronze in a manner reminiscent of that admired Baroque master, contrasting the smooth, flowing rhythms of the nudes&rsquo musculature with the finely textured chiseling on the rocky base, the figures&rsquo hair, and the torch&rsquos flame.

Piamontini was one of the last great masters of the Florentine Baroque statuette. Four of his bronzes are exhibited together in the same gallery.

Giuseppe Piamontini (Florence 1664&ndash1742 Florence)
Milo of Croton
Cast ca. 1725&ndash30
17 1/4 in. (43.6 cm)

The ancient Roman author Valerius Maximus tells of how Milo of Croton tested his strength against that of a riven oak only to be pinned within it and perish. Piamontini portrays Milo&rsquos anguish as he struggles against the tree, his feet sliding beneath him, and discovers his power useless. Piamontini&rsquos masterful rendering of a helplessly suspended heroic figure emphasizes the tale&rsquos moral on the downfall of pride. His refined tooling of the metal&rsquos surface sets the glowing polish of Milo&rsquos flesh against the dark tree&rsquos rough bark, creating textural frictions that evoke a sense of pain.

Hans Reichle (Schongau, Germany 1570&ndash1642 Brixen, Italy)
Christ at the Column
Cast ca. 1610
8 3/8 in. (21.4 cm)

Reichle studied in Florence with Giambologna and in his native Germany created statuettes following the practices of his teacher. Here, Reichle adapts the Italian devotional subject of Christ standing alone at the column to suit his German audience, which favored emotional depictions.

Christ&rsquos left hand is bound to the column (now lost) behind him, his angular gestures and agitated movements revealing his torment at the Flagellation. His large features, unbalanced pose, and over-sized hands depart from Giambologna&rsquos calm, idealized figures, as seen, for example, in the gilded crucified Cristo Morto.

Alessandro Algardi (Bologna 1598&ndash1654 Rome)
Cristo Vivo (The Living Christ on the Cross)
Model dated ca. 1646 a life-time cast
33 in. (83.7 cm)

Algardi depicts Christ sacrificing himself on the cross to redeem mankind. Twisted, billowing draperies echo the pain contained within the Savior&rsquos idealized, outstretched body. Christ directs his gaze toward God, his calm features expressing submission rather than agony. Algardi&rsquos compelling depiction was modeled as a gift for Pope Innocent X. Bronze casts like this superlative example, which reflect the fervent tenor of Catholic devotion, became the most popular crucifixes in Baroque Rome.

Algardi&rsquos Cristo Vivo is juxtaposed with a terracotta of the 1950s titled Crocifisso, by Lucio Fontana. Joining jagged, twisting shards into a cruciform body, Fontana composes a religious image whose spiritual intensity invokes its figurative precedents.

Willem Danielsz. van Tetrode (Delft? ca. 1525&ndash1580 Wedinghausen, Germany)
Mars Gradivus
Cast probably late 1560s
15 5/8 in. (39.5 cm)

The lure of classical antiquity and the promise of patronage drew northern artists such as Tetrode and his contemporary Giambologna to Italy. The pose of Tetrode&rsquos Mars Gradivus derives from an ancient sculpture, but the heavy musculature, flowing hair, and moustache reflect contemporary northern ideals.

Tetrode probably composed this statuette in Florence around the same time as Giambologna created his version of Mars. Both depict Mars striding forward, leading troops into battle. Tetrode emphasizes the war god&rsquos unleashed physical power Giambologna, his eloquent gesture of command.

Adriaen de Vries (The Hague ca. 1545&ndash1626 Prague)
Bacchic Man Wearing a Grotesque Mask
Cast ca. 1578&ndash80, probably by Giovanni Andrea Pellizzone (Milan ca. 1538&ndashafter 1610 Milan)
35 1/4 in. (89.5 cm)

This ferocious nude hidden behind a grotesque mask personifies Bacchus, the god of wine and theater. Surmounting a fountain, he presided over a Milanese academy dedicated to the pursuit of artistic freedom during the repressive years of the Catholic Reformation. The depiction of Bacchus as a frightening, muscular figure who crushes grapes like a workman was unprecedented. Attributed to the youthful Adriaen de Vries, this extraordinary bronze was made to shock and to inspire creativity.

Cy Twombly&rsquos and Ed Ruscha&rsquos canvases in this exhibition similarly upset traditional artistic conventions to challenge expectations and inspire new ways of seeing.

Hubert Gerhard (&rsquos-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands? 1540/50&ndashca. 1621 Munich?)
Cast probably before 1581
10 1/4 in. (26 cm)

Orion&rsquos lion skin and the sword and club he originally carried identify him as the mythical star-crossed lover who was transformed into a constellation by Jupiter. The detailed modeling of the figure&rsquos rippling musculature reflects Gerhard&rsquos knowledge of anatomy. Orion&rsquos tilted head, arched torso, and angled arms accentuate the bodily play of sinews and muscles. This revealing pose was common to anatomical models such as the Écorché. Gerhard most likely studied such models in preparation for this delicately executed statuette.

Hans Reichle (Schongau, Germany 1570&ndash1642 Brixen, Italy)
Christ at the Column
Cast ca. 1610
11 7/8 in. (30.2 cm)

Reichle studied in Florence with Giambologna and in his native Germany created statuettes following the practices of his teacher. Here, Reichle adapts the Italian devotional subject of Christ standing alone at the column to suit his German audience, which favored emotional depictions.

Christ&rsquos left hand is bound to the column (now lost) behind him, his angular gestures and agitated movements revealing his torment at the Flagellation. His large features, unbalanced pose, and over-sized hands depart from Giambologna&rsquos calm, idealized figures, as seen, for example, in the gilded crucified Cristo Morto.

Caspar Gras (Bad Mergentheim, Germany 1585&ndash1674 Schwaz, Austria)
Roaring Lion, Pouncing
Model dated ca. 1630s, cast before 1674
8 1/2 x 9 1/4 in. (21.6 x 23.7 cm)

One of only four known casts, this bronze was once one of a pair that included a Kicking Horse (J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles). It is a rare example of the invention and technical daring that German masters like Gras contributed to the Italian tradition of animal statuettes. Gras boldly depicts the king of beasts poised in mid-leap, attacking the horse from below. In Italy, as well as at the Habsburg court in Innsbruck, where this work was made, the subject of battling animals celebrated the ruler&rsquos exercise of power.

Circle of Ponce Jacquiot (Rethel, France before 1536&ndash1570 Paris)
Model created after 1556, cast before 1585
13 3/4 in. (34.8 cm)

Diana, virgin goddess of the hunt, runs while turning to grasp an arrow to notch into her bow (now lost). The heavy folds of her leather tunic swirl in counterpoint to her balletic movements. This exquisitely detailed statuette is a free interpretation of an ancient Roman marble statue of Diana (Musée du Louvre, Paris) that Pope Paul IV gave to King Henry II in 1556. The bronze goddess&rsquos nubile proportions, bejeweled hair, and entrancing gaze reflect the ideal of female beauty at the French royal court.

Barthélemy Prieur (Berzieux, France 1536?&ndash1611 Paris)
Lion Devouring a Doe
Cast probably before 1583
6 1/4 x 13 3/8 in. (16 x 34.1 cm)

In his youth, Prieur may have traveled to Rome for his artistic studies. Upon his return to Paris, he became one of the foremost sculptors of his generation. His elegant statuettes responded to the desire, then new in France, to collect bronzes in the &ldquoItalian manner.&rdquo The Lion Devouring a Doe is Prieur&rsquos interpretation of famous statuettes by Giambologna and his followers that depict a lion attacking a stallion. By substituting the fighting horse with a fragile doe, Prieur transforms a violent battle into a tragic scene that elicits the viewer&rsquos empathy for the victim.

Barthélemy Prieur (Berzieux, France 1536?&ndash1611 Paris)
Rearing Horse
Cast before 1611
8 1/4 x 8 3/4 in. (21 x 22.2 cm)

A gifted animal sculptor, Prieur introduced the Italian art of the statuette to his native France. His inventories of 1583 and 1611 list models of dogs, goats, stags, cows, bulls, lions, and horses. The composition of the Rearing Horse presented a daunting challenge because it required the sculpture&rsquos weight to be balanced on the two points of the horse&rsquos back hooves. The subject was so difficult that during the late Renaissance it came to symbolize the art of sculpture. This example from Prieur&rsquos workshop exhibits the formal stylization typical of the master.

Hubert Le Sueur (Paris ca. 1580&ndash1660 Paris)
Cast ca. 1641&ndash60
17 7/8 in. (45.4 cm)

Le Sueur was sought after by the kings of France and England for his ability to cast monumental bronze sculpture, and he probably created statuettes while working on these commissions. The Venus is loosely based on large-scale ancient statues depicting the nude goddess shielding herself (Venus pudica). The statuette&rsquos hesitant pose and inward expression heighten the effect of modesty. Viewed from the back, the goddess&rsquos posture emphasizes her ample, sensual grace. King Louis XIV displayed this bronze in his Medals Cabinet. It bears an engraved French royal inventory number above the left ankle.

Unknown French artist
The Assumption of the Virgin
Second half of seventeenth century, after a 1647 engraving of a 1644 painting by Simon Vouet, cast ca. 1650&ndash1700
18 3/4 x 12 1/4 in. (47.4 x 31.2 cm)

Lifted by cherubim, the Virgin rises from her tomb while the apostles look up in astonishment. The sculptor based his composition on an engraving, and he expertly employed his repertoire of tools to achieve the bronze relief&rsquos pictorial effects. He sharpened the figures&rsquo flaring robes with chisels, creating a sparkling contrast of light and shadow that offsets the polished backdrop of pilasters, steps, and tomb. Meticulous matte punching conveys the cloudburst&rsquos radiance.

This French bronze is paired with an oil sketch by Rubens of the same subject and size. The bold three-dimensionality of Rubens&rsquos figures and the pictorial illusionism of the relief underscore the fluid interplay between painting and sculpture during the Baroque period.

Probably commissioned by François Girardon (Troyes 1628&ndash1715 Paris)
Reclining Venus
Bronze cast after a terracotta model attributed to Thibault Poissant (1605&ndash1668)
Original carved gilt-wood base attributed to Gilles-Marie Oppenord (1672&ndash1742)
9 3/8 x 9 1/4 x 16 3/4 in. (24 x 23.5 x 42.5 cm)

Reclining on their original gilt-wood couches, the Reclining Venus and Sleeping Hermaphrodite are intact examples that preserve the sumptuous character of statuettes made during the reign of Louis XIV. The figures were displayed as a pair. When viewed from the back, each appears female. When viewed from the front, the hermaphrodite&rsquos dual male and female nature is revealed. The languorous beauty of the dreaming figures seduces and deceives. Grinning masks at the feet of their golden beds are emblems of duplicity.

Probably commissioned by François Girardon (Troyes, France 1628&ndash1715 Paris)
Sleeping Hermaphrodite
Bronze cast after a terracotta model attributed to François Duquesnoy (1597&ndash1643)
Original carved gilt-wood base attributed to Gilles-Marie Oppenord (1672&ndash1742)
8 1/4 x 9 1/8 x 17 1/8 in. (21 x 23.2 x 43.5 cm)

Girardon was sculptor to King Louis XIV, as well as a renowned collector. This bronze and its companion, Reclining Venus, were cast from terracotta models in his collection. Duquesnoy&rsquos terracotta Hermaphrodite was a reduction of a famous Roman marble antiquity. The Venus was modeled by a student of Nicholas Poussin. Girardon had these figures made as a bronze pair to celebrate the achievement of the founders of French classicism. He updated the ensemble&rsquos design by commissioning fantastic golden couches that were fashioned in the most exuberant contemporary style.

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‘The French royal collection version is a cast of superb quality. ’
Jeremy Warren

The present group by Ferdinando Tacca represents a high point of Florentine seventeenth century bronze casting. Hercules is depicted in a ferocious battle against the god Acheloüs, who has transformed himself into a bull. The result is a superb feat of compositional bravado, technical brilliance and overpowering force. Given by King Louis XIV of France to his son in 1681, the present bronze repeatedly appears in the inventories of the French Royal Collection until it was sold or dispersed during the Revolution.

The bronze depicts Hercules’ struggle with the river god, Acheloüs, one of Hercules’ rivals for the hand of the beautiful Deianira. Faced with an array of suitors for his daughter, Deianira’s father, King Oeneus of Calydon, announced a contest in which the strongest would win her hand. Acheloüs was by far the strongest in the region, but because of Deianira’s great beauty Hercules travelled far to Calydon for the contest. It was well-known that Hercules was the strongest mortal in the world and the other suitors withdrew, leaving Hercules to wrestle Acheloüs. The river god was able to transform himself at will he could become a snake, a bull-headed man or a bull, and did so during his wrestling match with Hercules. Hercules defeated Acheloüs, ripping off one of his horns, which became the ubiquitous classical symbol of abundance, the cornucopia. The bronze follows the story of the contest as outlined in Ovid’s Metamorphoses (IX, 94-103, London, 1567).


The model of the present group is from a series of five bronzes of Hercules commissioned from Pietro Tacca, Ferdinando’s father, by Grand Duke Cosimo III of Tuscany around 1614, as part of a gift for King James I of England. This project never came to fruition and it does not appear that any of these models were cast during Pietro Tacca’s own lifetime (Warren, 2016, op. cit., no. 116). The impetus for their creation seems to have come from a request by Prince Henry of England for the Medici to send him some more bronzes, after the success of a royal gift in 1612. The Prince died in 1614, but soon after Cosimo ordered a set of the Twelve Labours of Hercules from Tacca and two others, as a gift to Henry’s father King James I. Tacca made five models for the series but they were never cast, and in 1633 he is recorded still seeking payment for the models from the Grand Duke (ibid, p. 536). The five models in the series are of Hercules and the Centaur, Hercules overcoming Acheloüs, Hercules and the Erymanthian Boar, Hercules and the Arcadian Stag and Hercules supporting the Heavens.

A source for the models may have been a series of prints by Antonio Tempesta published in 1608, which shows similarities with the compositions of Hercules and the Stag, Hercules and the Boar (in the background) and Hercules overcoming Acheloüs. An alternative source for the present group may be an engraving of the same subject by Gian Giacomo Caraglio, published in 1524, after a drawing by Rosso Fiorentino, in which the pose and type of bull are almost identical to the animal in the present bronze. The closest possible source is from a series of prints by Cornelis Cort after Frans Floris I that were published by Hendrick Goltzius in 1563. This engraving is also thought to have inspired Cornelis van Haarlem’s great painting of the same subject (sold at Christie's, New York, 15 April 2008, lot 25).

Ferdinando Tacca was one of the leading sculptor’s working under the Medici in Florence in the seventeenth century. Inheriting his father’s studio which he in turn had inherited from Giambologna, Tacca continued their great legacy in creating exquisite bronze casts for the Medici family and noble patrons throughout the courts of Europe. Ferdinando improved on the technical capabilities of Pietro Tacca, Antonio Susini and Giambologna by casting superb bronzes in ever increasing scale.

Ferdinando Tacca was born in Florence in October 1619. His father, Pietro, had inherited Giambologna’s studio in Borgo Pinti on his death in 1608 and was recognised as the official court sculptor to Cosimo II de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. It is likely that Ferdinando assisted his father in his workshop growing up. When Pietro himself died in 1640, Ferdinando immediately took over the running of the large studio and succeeded his father as court sculptor to Ferdinand II, who had succeeded his father.


Pietro had been trained by Giambologna to work in marble and bronze, but the latter became his favourite material and his marble statues were usually handed over to his assistants. Pietro built on Giambologna’s sophisticated Mannerist style, but was able to achieve a greater technical mastery which in term influenced his own stylistic development.

Pietro’s last important commission was an equestrian monument to Philip IV, King of Spain. Philip requested from Tacca that he be depicted on a rearing horse this difficult feat had never before been achieved on a monumental scale. Tacca’s lifelong study of casting helped him to resolve, with advice from Galileo Galilei, the immense challenge. This was ‘one of the greatest achievements in the history of Western sculpture’ (Watson and Brook, loc. cit.). Ferdinando must have been closely involved in the commission, and after Pietro’s death he carried it to its completion, travelling to Madrid to unite and erect the sculpture in the garden of Buen Retiro in 1642.

Both Pietro and Ferdinando were mindful not to abandon the celebrated style of Giambologna that had proved immensely popular with patrons Europe-wide. And yet the bronzes of both Pietro and Ferdinando are distinct from Giambologna and each other. Their works tended ‘towards naturalism more marked than that displayed in Giambologna’s sculpture’. Both father and son developed a style of their own, which can be seen most tellingly in their small-scale bronze sculptures. In the tradition of Giambologna’s other major assistant, Antonio Susini, Pietro and Ferdinando concentrated huge resources in creating exquisite surface finishes and the result was that they ‘could make bronze resemble skin or hair, hide or cloth, rock or plant’ (ibid).


After completing work on the equestrian statue of Philip IV, Ferdinando returned to Florence. From 1642 to 1649 he worked on two monumental bronze statues of Grand Dukes Ferdinand I and Cosimo II, which his father had begun for the Cappella dei Principi in San Lorenzo, Florence. But following this Ferdinando had to seek patronage outside the Medici court, which was by this date in decline. His most important works in the following period were a life-size Crucifix and four infant angels in bronze for the palace chapel of Prince Carlo I Cybo Malaspina of Massa–Carrara (1647–9), an antependium relief of the Stoning of St Stephen (1656), kneeling infant angels in bronze executed for the Bartolommei family (1650-5, Getty Museum), the bronze Fountain of Bacchus (1658–65, Prato, Palazzo Pretorio), and private commissions such as a bronze figure of Apollo (Los Angeles County Art Museum).

Alongside this Ferdinando also worked on independent bronze groups. The most impressive of these were the five re-worked casts of the Labours of Hercules after models created by Pietro, that include the bronze of Hercules overcoming Acheloüs discussed above. It is not known who commissioned Ferdinando to cast such expensively assembled large-scale bronze sculptures, but it was unlikely to have been done from his own reserves. The theatricality of the models would have appealed to Ferdinando, who was known to have pursued a second vocation as a stage designer, and they inspired in him some of his greatest achievements in bronze. Their richly defined surfaces are an enormous achievement in themselves, and give evidence that his engineering and casting skills were just as important as his artistic vision.


In 1976 Anthony Radcliffe published a paper 'Ferdinando Tacca, the missing link in Florentine Baroque bronzes' (Radcliffe, 1976, loc. cit.) that first established Ferdinando’s authorship of a group of high-quality bronze mythological sculptures. Because of the reduced patronage provided by the Medici Grand Dukes in the mid-seventeenth century, there is remarkably little documented work by Ferdinando, considering his status and the length of time he was running the most important bronze workshop in Florence. Radcliffe convincingly linked these previously mis-attributed bronzes to Ferdinando by comparing them stylistically to the relief of the Stoning of St Stephen. Each of these bronzes consists of two-figures, set apart from each other on a thin base, ‘in such a way as to emphasize a single, frontal view—a kind of miniature theatre. He thus provides a link between Giambologna and Giovanni Battista Foggini’ (Watson and Brook, 2003). This series is now known to include ten models – often in variant versions – representing the following pairs: Medoro and Angelica, Apollo and Daphne, Bireno and Olimpia, Hercules and Iole, Mercury and Juno, Pan and Diana, Roger and Angelica, Ceres and Bacchus and Venus and Adonis (Wengraf, loc. cit.).

Wengraf argues that these two-figures groups were conceived earlier than previously thought, possibly even as early as 1635-40, when Ferdinando was still in the workshop of his father Pietro. Between nine and eleven groups by Ferdinando are noted in the inventory of the commissaire des guerres Jean-Baptiste de Bretagne drawn up after his death in October 1650 (see Warren, 2010, op. cit., p. 94), which would give a terminus ante quem to the conception and casting of the models.

Radcliffe noted the individual way that Ferdinando modelled his bases, which was quite unlike the bronzes of Giambologna or Antonio Susini. His bases are all modelled in the same ‘quasi-naturalistic way and worked with sinuous convoluted tracks of unusually heavy punching’ (Radcliffe, op. cit., p. 18). This can be seen in his two-figure groups but also in his casts of Pietro’s models of the Hercules series most evidently in the superb rendition of the bases of Hercules overcoming Acheloüs and Hercules overcoming the Centaur Eurytion, which show an obsessive attention to work every surface, a hallmark of Ferdinando’s work which made him one of the greatest sculptors working in bronze in the seventeenth century.


The present bronze is one of two known casts the other cast was probably acquired by the 3rd Marquess of Hertford in 1842 and is in the Wallace Collection, London. In his exhaustive study of the Italian sculpture in the Wallace Collection, Jeremy Warren compares the two bronzes, commenting that the ‘outstanding version numbered 302 in the French royal collection, now in private hands…is of higher quality’ than the version in the Wallace (Warren, 2016, loc. cit.).

Warren notes that the two bronzes have a few small variations in the present cast Hercules is positioned slightly further back and his head is lowered, which helps to increase the psychological tension within the composition. The lion skin that Hercules wears as a cloak is pushed further into the air in the present version, which increases the sense of Hercules’ forward movement. Technically the present cast is an advancement on the Wallace cast the finishing is of a higher quality and the weight is more evenly distributed so that fewer extra sections were needed to be inserted after casting. Warren argues that this evidence suggests that the Wallace example may precede the present bronze, as the latter appears to improve on the design of the Wallace cast.


The close similarity of the two known casts of Tacca’s Hercules Overcoming the Bull Achelöus suggests that they were also cast by the indirect lost wax process. Jeremy Warren was able to examine the two groups simultaneously and make extensive notes. Both groups have been cast in a number of separate pieces and then joined after casting. Partly because of the gilding, the joints of the Wallace bronze are relatively easy to detect. However, in the case of the present bronze Warren writes, ‘the French royal collection version is a cast of superb quality, in which it is virtually impossible through normal visual examination to determine the seams joining the different parts’ (Warren, 2016, loc. cit., p. 546). Notwithstanding, a few joins are visible, including to Hercules’ right arm below the elbow, to his right thigh and at two points of the lion skin close to Hercules’ back. This latter element of the lion skin flying out dramatically behind the hero as he lunges forward is a particularly virtuoso piece of casting and finishing. The pelt ripples in the air with a seeming life of its own, supported only by two narrow ‘arms’ that are then tied across Hercules’ chest.

Despite the many similarities of the casting process between the two bronzes, one area where they differ is the manner in which each is attached to its separately cast base. In both cases there are holes in the base into which the bronze elements are inserted. However, the method of attaching the bronze elements is quite different. In the case of the Wallace example, most of the holes are covered underneath with a metal plate before a screw is inserted through the plate and screwed into the bottom of the bronze element above. In the case of the French royal bronze, the process was more laborious and costly, but ultimately ensured that the overall group remained more stable. In this latter case, once the bronze element had been inserted into the hole a second pouring of bronze was added from beneath, thus securing the bronze element permanently. Several of these second pourings were too deep for the recessed base and would have prevented the bronze from resting flat on a given surface. One can clearly see the chisel marks where these excess pieces of bronze were removed.

One further feature worth noting is the distinctive and unusual presence of neatly paired plugs on either side of several of the second pourings. It is unclear what their function might have been but their placement is too regular for them to be casting flaws that have been repaired. It may be that bands of some sort held the elements in place during the process of the second bronze pourings and that once these elements were secure the bands were removed and the holes were filled. It would be interesting to know if this feature has parallels in other bronzes of the period.

One of the glories of the French royal bronze is its patination which, unlike the gilded example in the Wallace Collection has a rich warm brown surface. The alloy of the Wallace bronze was analysed and was shown to have a particularly high copper content (92.2%) even by the standards of Italian foundries, which tend to use more copper than their northern counterparts. Although it hasn’t been formally analysed, the alloy of the present group is clearly also high in copper, as is obvious when one examines the raw bronze on the underside which has a clear pink tinge. This distinctive alloy contributes to the depth of colour achieved. The surface is further enlivened overall by directional wire brushing which is visible under the translucent lacquers and gives greater texture to the surface.


The present bronze was one of nine given by Louis XIV to his twenty-year-old son, the Grand Dauphin, in 1681. For reasons of rank, it was considered necessary for the Grand Dauphin to own a collection of bronzes, as proof of his interest in the humanist achievements of the Renaissance. At the Grand Dauphin's early death in 1711, these bronzes were incorporated into the royal collection by Louis XIV, where they remained until the Revolution. Three other bronzes by Tacca from the Hercules series also formed part of this gift from Louis XIV to his son. Today, two are in the Louvre and the third is in the collection of the Prince of Liechtenstein.

Watch the video: Herkules - Saavutan voiton (December 2022).

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