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Work Hercules resting

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Hellenistic Art (3rd-1st centuries BC)

Author(s):
Astier Marie-Bénédicte

This statuette is one a number of copies of a bronze statue created by Lysippos in the late fourth century BCE. It demonstrates the sculptor's concern to place the human body in three-dimensional space, using the position of the arms and legs to increase the number of viewing angles. Hercules is shown exhausted at the end of his twelve labors, leaning on his club (partly covered by the skin of the Nemean lion), and holding in his left hand the golden apples of the Hesperides.

An echo of Hercules resting by Lysippos

This bronze statuette, discovered in the late nineteenth century at Foligno in Umbria, is a smaller-scale copy of a bronze statue, now lost, created by the Greek sculptor Lysippos in the final decades of the fourth century BCE (the early Hellenistic period). Hercules is not shown carrying out one of the twelve labors ordered by King Eurystheus, but rather at the end of these trials. The tired hero leans on his club, which is partly concealed by the skin of the Nemean lion. Behind his back he held the golden apples of the Hesperides, now lost. In a skilful synthesis of the hero's exploits, the figure thus evokes the first and last labors of Hercules. Before entering the collections of the Louvre, the work was restored in Rome by the antiquarian Martinetti, who reconstructed the missing right foot and added an ancient base. The club, purchased in 1895, is not the original one. The original right foot, purchased later, is displayed beside the statue.

The legacy of Lysippos

Believed by some to be nearly contemporary with the sculpture by Lysippos, this statuette may date from the beginning of the Roman Empire (first century CE). When dealing with small bronzes it is admittedly difficult to distinguish a Roman copy from a Hellenistic work, itself probably the echo of a long-lost original. To date, nearly twenty-five sculpted copies and numerous coins attest to the popularity of the original in Hellenistic and Roman times. The most famous of these is the imposing marble statue in the Naples museum that was discovered in the Baths of Caracalla: sculpted and signed by Glycon of Athens in the second century CE, the Farnese Hercules has given its name to the innumerable copies of Lysippos's original work.

The artistic quest of Lysippos

The figure's elongated silhouette and the deliberately reduced proportions of the head show the influence of the new sculptural canon elaborated by Lysippos in the fourth century BCE. Henceforth, the height of the head was to be one-eighth the height of the body, and not one-seventh, as the Classical canon of Polykleitos dictated. In this statuette we can also see the care taken by the bronzesmith to place the human body in three-dimensional space. Through the position of the arms, the right hand placed behind the hip, and the advanced left leg, Lysippos multiplied the points of view from which the work could be seen. The viewer is invited to appreciate the statue from all sides, in order to reach a fuller understanding of the meaning of the subject and to spot the apples, which cannot be seen from the front. The conception of the work thus rests on dramatic effect, a ubiquitous theme in Hellenistic sculpture.

Bibliography

Havelock C.-M., Hellenistic Art, 1971, pp. 119-20, n 81.
Héron de Villefosse A., "Séance du 13 novembre", Bulletin de la Société nationale des antiquaires de France, 1895, pp. 288-90.
Krull D., Der Herakles vom typ Farnese, 1985, pp. 162-4, n 64.
Moreno P., "Il Farnese ritrovato ed altri tipi di Eracle in riposo", Mélanges de l'Ecole Française de Rome et d'Athènes 94, 1982, 1, pp. 400, 425, 434, 499, n B 2, 4, fig. 45.
Rolley Cl., La Sculpture grecque, II. La période classique, Paris, 1999, pp. 335-6, fig. 348.
Lisippo, l'arte e la fortuna, Rome, 1995, p. 109, n 4.14.4.

Technical description

  • Hercules resting

    Either 3rd century BCE or a Roman copy from the early Empire (1st century CE) ?

    Foligno, central Italy

  • Hollow-cast and solid-cast bronze statuette, with incisions and inclusions

    H. 42.5 cm (35 cm without the base)

  • Tyszkiewicz collection. Purchased and given 1870.

    BR 652

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

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