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Work Heracles of Mantinea

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Heracles fighting

© 1999 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Classical Greek Art (5th-4th centuries BC)

Lepetoukha Charlotte

This figure, with its powerful musculature, is recognizable as Heracles: originally, the statue would have brandished the hero's attributes, the club and the bow.
The statuette exemplifies the exploration of the representation of movement by artists of the mid-fifth century BC. It is thought to have been dedicated at Mantinea, traditionally the site of a cult to Heracles, although its bulky proportions and solid shape recall earlier figures from the neighboring province of Argolid.


This small bronze represents a nude, bearded male figure taking a large stride (known as a "heroic lunge"). His right arm is raised and bent back towards his head, and probably once brandished a club. His left arm is stretched forward; his fist once clasped an object with a curved shaft - probably a bow. These attributes, and his robust musculature, are sufficient to identify the figure as a representation of Heracles in combat (shown here without his lion-skin), in keeping with an iconographic scheme familiar from other sources.

An Argive bronze dedicated in Arcadia?

Heracles is one of the most commonly represented heroes in Greek iconography, particularly in the Peloponnese, where he was seen as something of a mythical ancestor. This small bronze was found in Mantinea, an Arcadian city, where it may have been dedicated. Indeed, many of Heracles's exploits (the capture of the Erymanthian boar and the Ceryneian hind, the destruction of the Stymphalian birds) took place in this region of the Peloponnese, which may explain the particular local devotion. Moreover, literary sources (Thucydides, V, 64, 5) mention a cult to Heracles in Mantinea, although very little is known about it today.
The statuette's technique, however, is reminiscent of work produced in the city of Argos, in the neighboring region of the Argolid. The powerful, massive silhouette, the stability of the pose and the sturdy facial features characteristic of the Argive tradition. The distinctions between the different regional schools became less marked from the Early Classical period onwards, but persisted in small statuary, as can be seen here.

A study of movement

This work is typical of new artistic trends in the early fifth century BC. In a break with the hieratic frontality that dominated Archaic sculpture, artists developed an interest in depicting the body and its musculature in movement. Small bronze statuettes were particularly suited to this, enabling artists to experiment more freely. Statuettes were not yet considered subordinate to monumental statuary, as was the case after the middle of the fifth century.
Heracles is represented here in accordance with a scheme much in favor during the fifth century: a large bronze figure of Poseidon (?) discovered off Cape Artemision (now in Athens) also adopts a "heroic lunge". The pose allows the body to be represented in dynamic but controlled action, and provides the artist with an interesting opportunity to render the muscle responses in the abdomen, and the extension of the pectorals. However, certain Archaic features remain, such as the navel (which is placed too low), the acute angle formed by the fold of the groin, and the inaccuracies in the modeling of the torso. All of these characteristics date the work to circa 460 BC.


Charbonneaux J., "Statuette en bronze d'Héraklès", in Monuments Piot, XXIX, 1927-1928, pp. 137-147.Descamps S., "L'Héraclès de Mantinée, une maîtrise parfaite du mouvement", in Archeologia hors série n 2 H, 1993, p. 41.Exposition The Greek Miracle, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1993, n 14, p. 110.Rolley C., La Sculpture grecque, I, Paris 1994, p. 333.

Technical description

  • Heracles fighting

    C. 460 BC

    Provenance: Mantinea?

    Argive style

  • Bronze

    H. 13 cm

  • Acquired in 1923 , 1923

    Br 4171

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Bronzes room
    Room 663
    Display case C2: Classical Greece (5th century BC)

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