Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

How to Show Up in a Gym – 3 Ancient Sculptures of Hercules

Marble sculpture of The Farnese Hercules, c. 216 CE, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, Italy. Detail.

Sculpture

How to Show Up in a Gym – 3 Ancient Sculptures of Hercules

In Greek mythology Hercules was a demigod and much admired heroic figure. The Romans called him Hercules (Herakles was his Greek name) and he was imported into their mythological story of the founding of Rome. In mythology, Hercules, completed twelve labors, a series of grueling challenges, that entailed suffering and struggle. Whilst completing these ghastly feats,he encountered many Greek cities and landscapes. Although, he was not the founder of any cities specifically, his presence in art, particularly sculpture, connects him to these places.

Hercules became a prominent force in ancient culture. He achieved immortality after his death because his labors were undertaken on behalf of mankind (the Greek for labors is athloi, from which we derive ‘athlete’). As athletic achievements were one of the highest honours in ancient Greece, Hercules was the ideal role model. His athleticism was emphasized during the twelve labors and he demonstrated both mental and physical prowess. Let’s take a look at 3 depictions of Hercules in ancient Greek and Roman sculpture.

The Farnese Hercules

This is an ancient marble sculpture of a The Farnese Hercules from c. 216 CE. It is displayed at The National Archaeological Museum of Naples
Marble sculpture of The Farnese Hercules, c. 216 CE, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, Italy.

The Farnese Hercules is a Roman marble sculpture from 216 CE, which is signed on the base by the sculptor, Glykon. It is an enlarged copy of an earlier 4th century BCE Greek original that was cast in bronze by Lysippos but was unfortunately melted down. The sculpture was discovered at the Baths of Caracalla in Rome in 1540.

Hercules leans on his club, which is draped with the impenetrable skin of the Nemean lion that he slew during his first labor. Standing at an impressive 3.15 m, he displays another trophy behind his back – the legendary golden apples that he stole from the garden of Hesperides. This was one of Hercules’ last labors and his subdued figure and downcast eyes shows us that despite his heroic achievements, he is still very much a human hero. The viewer is drawn to his articulated physique, which is a feast for the eyes and emphasizes the sheer strength and courage that was fundamental to overcoming his labors.

Youthful Hercules

This is an ancient marble sculpture of a youthful Hercules from 69–96 CE. It is displayed at The Met Museum in New York.
Marble Sculpture of a Youthful Hercules, 69–96 CE, The Metropolitan Museum, New York, USA.

This marble sculpture was created sometime between 69-96 CE during the Flavian Dynasty. It is believed to have been made as one of a pair with an older Hercules and restorations were made to it during the 17th century. Hercules stands in a position invented by the Greeks, which we now call contrapposto. His body weight rests on one leg contrasted with the left leg, which is relaxed, and so the body is in a state of equilibrium. His defined facial structure, lack of beard, wide shoulders and soft musculature all represent his youthfulness and masculinity. We are reminded of Hercules’ bravery by the protective lion skin that rests effortlessly on his left arm and the club that he grips with his right hand.

Bearded Hercules

This is an ancient marble sculpture of a bearded Hercules from 68-98 CE. It is displayed at The Met Museum in New York.
Marble Sculpture of a Bearded Hercules, 68-98 CE, The Metropolitan Museum, New York, USA.

It is believed that this marble sculpture was the Youthful Hercules’ counterpart and both works were used to decorate a large public bath. The arrangement of the lion’s fur over Hercules’ head like a hood is striking and the tied paws symbolize Hercules’ brute strength. He killed the Nemean lion with his own bare hands so the absence of arms on the sculpture due to restoration issues is ironic. Hercules exudes confidence through his poised stance and rugged features, including a furrowed brow. Roman sculpture aspired towards realism, which we can also see in the defined muscles around the abdominal area and legs, but they are still exaggerated proportions to conform to a beautiful ideal figure that symbolized physical and moral excellence.



Read more about classical sculpture:

Comments

More in Sculpture

  • Ancient Greece

    Greek Mythological Creatures that Combine Female Beauty and Beastly Ugliness

    By

    Gods, goddesses, demigods, horrible monsters, and beasts of hybrid forms roam the world of Ancient Greek mythology. Their heredity shaped many of the fictional and fantastical creatures of our time. From Sirens that lure sailors to their deaths by their sweet voice, the ravenous Sphinx guarding...

  • Ancient Greece

    The Serene Beauty of a Pastoral Love: Daphnis and Chloé Paintings

    By

    Well-known love stories are an essential part of our literary conscience. Within these stories, themes such as separation, sacrifice, and passion play a significant role. Yet, there are not many examples where the love between characters is as pure, naive, and sincere as in the story...

  • 21st century

    Three Unique Portrayals of Europa’s Abduction Myth

    By

    The mesmerizing realm of Greek mythology is one of the greatest sources for artists to exhibit their technical brilliance and unique interpretations. Its influence and weight not only strongly felt in visual arts, but in every other artistic discipline as well. Greek mythology is full of...

  • The Parthenon mythology The Parthenon mythology

    Ancient Greece

    The Parthenon Mythology and Architecture

    By

    Mythology is a pretty broad topic in Ancient Greek history. And even more so is the use of mythological figures in ancient Greek art. From pottery to sculptures, we can see that the ancient Greeks were inspired by their own mythological tales. This is especially true...

  • Ancient Greece

    Timeless Beauty: Ancient Greek Athletes in Art

    By

    The idea of timeless beauty is fascinating. Also, it’s a great concern for lovers of art history. Conceptions of beauty in Western art history have many roots in the ancient Greek athlete. This is partly due to the pedestal that late 18th century scholars put Greek...

To Top

Just to let you know, DailyArt Magazine’s website uses cookies to personalise content and adverts, to provide social media features and to analyse traffic. Read cookies policy