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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Hercules Running -- CARACALLA COME ERCOLE.


"Hercules Running" is a Roman statue.

Later Imperial, Late Severan, or Early in time of Soldier-Emperors. AD 215-250. H: 31.2 cm.

Collezione Franco L. Babbott.


ERCOLE runs carrying a lion-skin draped over his extended forearms.

The pelt wraps ERCOLE's body so that mask, tail, and paws, all hang over his left arm.

ERCOLE is crowned with a wreath which seems to alernate laurel leaves and flowers, and is tied with broad ribbons fluttering down onto his shoulders.

His broad, lumpy face is given a fiercely LEONINE expression by a pattern of crossing diagonals.

The massive frown lines in his brow are continued by furrows in his cheeks extending down from the corner of eyes and nostrils.

Much use is made of incision to render the anatomy, particularly in the tendons and muscles of the lower legs.

The pectorals, shoulder muscles, and shulder blades are sharply outlined in emphatic, conceptualised fashion.

On the back, anatomical detail is scarcer, and the surface is rougher.

ERCOLE's hair and beard are rendered with rough, chunky locks, while the hair of the lion's pelt is indicated with rough dots and slashes.

The texture does not continue behind ERCOLE's arms or back, thereby making it clear that the STATUE WAS MEANT TO BE VIEWED EITHER DIRECTLY FROM THE FRONT OR FROM SLIGHTLY TO HIS LEFT.

In back, a pair of vertical grooves segregate the area of the pelt over ERCOLE's buttocks.

The action is quite UNcharacteristic for ERCOLE.

He runs forward as if to present the trophy of one of his assigned labours: killing the Nemean king.

The running pose with fontal chest and symmetrical flexed arms recalls marble statues of runners in the PALAZZO DEI CONSERVATORI in ROMA, whose original is ascribed to a fourth-century BC follower of POLYCLITUS.

There, however, the front leg is flexed, while the back is straight.

The tensile strengh of BRONZE makes it possible to LIFT the back foot from the ground here, as in the life-sized Hellenistic bronze runner in the IZMIR MUSEUM from the Aegean Sea near Kyme.

Oddly, the position of the lion skin seems dictated as much by modesty as by the demands of narration.

ERCOLE is shrouded front and back as if by a pair of shorts or a bath towel.

Although there are precedents for some aspects of the pose, as a whole the composition is highly original.

His battered and ferocious face is the focus of the composition.

The X-shaped patterns of lines slashing across a secondary grid of horizontals is extremely dynamic and expressive.

This X-pattern emerged in the portraits of CARACALLA, and its influence, as traced by Wood, continued into the tijme of GALLIENUS.

It is within this time span that this bronze statuette should be placed.

The turbulent plasticity of hair, beard, and face suggests a date under CARACALLA himself.

Lower relief and less stormy effects characterise the following reigns.

Several considerations, however, indicate that the piece was cast somewhat later.

The IMPRESSIONISTIC, linear texturing of the lionskin recalls techniques seen in marble work of the time of SEVERO ALESSANDRO (AD 222-235) and thereafter.

The deep indentations of the hairline at the temples evoke hairlines in portraits of the Soldier Emperors (AD 235-285).

Perhaps an ideal date of about AD 235 might be imagined.

The rough technique and primitive rendering of anatomy can seem surprising in an age of such suave marble work in ROMA.

The arts of EGYPT, however, offer excellent parallels.

A colossal granite head of CARACALLA from COPTOS, now in the University Museum, Philadelphia, presents very similar harsh simplifications while focusing on the X-pattern of wrinkles.

Hair is shown in similar lumpy balls.

The statuette manifests this provincial style in particularly vivid, spontaneous terms.

The running ERCOLE is one of the few pieces that seems to reprsent a distinctly local phenomenon: a vigorous Egyptian folk art at the service of Imperial ideology.

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