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Work Hercules

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


© 2004 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

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

Astier Marie-Bénédicte

The Greek hero Hercules is depicted after the completion of his twelve labors, holding the golden apples of the Hesperides in his left hand, and probably his club in the other. The statuette - hollow-cast, exceptionally, despite its small size - was inspired by contemporary works by Lysippos. The elongated proportions, the treatment of the features and the fluidity of the pose are particularly reminiscent of certain figures on the ex-voto of the Thessalians at Delphi.

Unusual technical features

This bronze statuette is a fairly rare example of the hollow-cast, lost-wax casting method. The use of this technique for a work only 27 centimeters tall is exceptional, as it was generally reserved for much larger bronzes. Found in the nineteenth century in the Rhodope Massif in Thrace, this statuette was created in the second half of the fourth century BCE, on the cusp between the Classical and the Hellenistic periods.

Hercules in the garden of the Hesperides

Hercules is depicted at the end of the twelve labors that his cousin, King Eurystheus, had ordered him to perform. He is shown completely naked, without the skin of the Nemean lion that he usually wears, and probably held a club, now lost, in his right hand. In his left hand he holds the three golden apples plucked from the garden of the Hesperides (the three daughters of Hesperus commanded by Hera to watch over the miraculous tree). According to the legend, Hercules had been warned by Prometheus that he should not pluck the precious fruit himself, so he asked the giant Atlas, who carried the heavens on his shoulders, if he could relieve him of his burden while Atlas went off to pick the apples desired by Eurystheus.

The influence of works by Lysippos

The statuette seems to take its inspiration from a contemporary model, though it is nevertheless not a copy. The figure's elongated silhouette and the deliberately reduced proportions of the head betray the influence of the Greek sculptor and bronzesmith Lysippos of Sicyon. In the fourth century BCE, Lysippos drew up a canon of proportions for a more elongated figure that that defined by Polykleitos in the previous century. According to Lysippos, the height of the head should be one-eighth the height of the body, and not one-seventh, as Polykleitos recommended. The figure's balance and the fluidity of its pose also reflect Lysippos's work on placing the human body in three-dimensional space. Finally, the lines of the face and the vigorous relief of the musculature on this bronze are similar to certain figures on the ex-voto of the Thessalians at Delphi, created by Lysippos c.340-325 BCE. This is particularly true of the statue of Agias, a contemporary copy in marble of the sculptor's bronze original. This type of statue was copied with great frequency - and with greater or lesser accuracy - in the Hellenistic and Imperial periods. The Louvre collections include notably two small "Lysippian" heads in molded terracotta (CA 317 and CA 717) resembling that of Agias, created at Smyrna in the Hellenistic period and in the second century CE.


Charbonneaux J., Les Bronzes grecs, Paris, 1958, p. 96, pl. 24.
Rolley Cl., Les Bronzes grecs, Fribourg, 1983, pp. 156-7 et p. 238, n 277.
Thomas R., Griechische bronzestatuetten, Darmstadt, 1992, p. 111.
Polyklet : Der Bildhauer der griechischen Klassik: Ausstellung im Liebieghaus, Frankfurt, 1990, p. 749, n 380, pl. 471.

Technical description

  • Héraclès

    Deuxième moitié du IVe siècle avant J.-C.

    Massif du Rhodope (Thrace)

  • Bronze

    H. : 26,80 cm.

  • Acquisition 1877 , 1877

    Br 487

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Bronzes room
    Room 663
    Vitrine C3 : Grèce classique et hellénistique, IVe - Ier siècles avant J.-C.

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