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Saturday, November 28, 2015



ERCOLE, statua. Early Imperial, circa 30 BC -- AD 20. H: 14.5 cm. Collezione di J. H. Fund.

ERCOLE stands in a quiet yet fluid pose.

The stance is frontal.

ERCOLE looks directly forward, and his relaxed left leg is scarcely advanced beyond his weight-bearing right.

Yet his right hip projects strongly to the side, and his upper body sways back toward his bent, outstretched arm, over which the skin of the Nemean lion is draped.

The knotty, swollen musculature ripples powerfully to intensify the fluid effect, as do his elegantly asymmetrical genitals.

ERCOLE's outstretched left hand originally held the apples of the Hesperides, and his lowered right once carried his club, proejecting forward at a 45-degree ange as if to balance the tilt of his torso.

He is crowned with a diadem formed by a twisted ribbon, made of a twisted silver wire.

ERCOLE's expertly rendered anatomy has been turned into that of a weight-lifter or a workman accustomed to the heaviest manual labour.

His belly is massive in a way usually confined to representations of the drunken ERCOLE or the closely related theme of ERCOLE urinating.

Even ERCOLE's head, with its swelling forhead, puffy, curly beard, and tiny eyes -- looks mucle-bound.

At the same time, there is a refinement and even elegance in the characterisation.

The closely cropped hair, slim nose, small ears, and piercing glance turn the muscle-man into a formidable champion on more than one level.

This is not one of ERCOLE's well-publicised weaker moments.

ERCOLE is alert in control of himself.

The workmanship is unusually refined and subtle.

The back is as beautifully finished as the front.

The lion's pelt is filled with turbulent asymmetries and rich modelling.

Details are finely shaped from the lion's teeth to ERCOLE's toes, genitals, and facial features.

The massive locks at the front of his beard gradually shrink to tiny curls at the back of his jaw.

The hair of his head and pubes is suggested impressionistically in contrast with the careful chiseling of the beard.

A club-carrying ERCOLE standing quietly extending the apples of the Hesperides with an arm draped in a lionskin is a sculptural theme popular ever since MIRONE's lost masterpiece of the mid-fifth century B.C.

ERCOLE appears with these attributes and in just the stance of this bronze in large-scale statues, whose original has been atributed to the fourth century.

These statues, however, generally depict ERCOLE as youthfully beardless and with a relatively trim, athletic waistline, as in a colossal bronze in the Vatican or a basalt colossus of Flavian date from the Palatine.

The bearded version is more difficult to document in large-scale sculpture, and it may be a late Hellenistic variation on the composition.

The heavy belly of the statuette probably reflects the influence of drunken ERCOLI popular in Hellenstic and early Imperial times.

Examples in marble and bronze come from HERCULANEUM, and a fine fragmentary bronze statuete from Smyrna is in the Metropolitan Museum of New York.

The fat, bearded version of ERCOLE with the apples may then have been created around the end of the Hellenistic period.

Although the bronze statuette is hard to parallel exactly in large-scale sculpture, it does represent a well-established type in the repertory of craftsmen producing small-scale bronze statuettes.

Recently, an almost identical ERCOLE, complete with base, was found at Weissenburg on the Danubian frontier in Bavaria.

The two are even the same size.

The Weissenburg ERCOLE is a mere three millimetres taller.

A clumsier version from RIMINI is in the British Museum.

The Weissenburg statuette is thought to have been made in the second half of the second century A. D. and was buried in a hoard of bronzes around the middle of the third century.

In spite of the close physical and typological similarities, there are significant stylistic differences.

The Weissenberg figure is more emphatic and overt.

Not only does ERCOLE wear a flamboyant laurel wreath, but he also glances out in the direction of his more pronounced step, giving him a stormy, aggressive quality that has much in common with portraits of the later Antonine emperors.

His musculature is sharply outlined, and he has a more conventionally acceptable waist.

Although the two are probably the producs of a single workshop, the shop may well have been a long-lived one.

Our bloated-but-refined ERCOLE may be substantially earlier and stem from a time close to the formualtion of the type.

A similar mixture of bulky body and refined head is found in a terracotta relief of ERCOLE in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The relief, said to come from CAPUA, continues the Italic middle Republican tradition of fine terracottas, probably not later than the early first century B. C.

The modelling of the Hellenistic drunken ERCOLE in New York also has much in common with that of the bronze statuette.

The almost archaistic frontality and delicacy of detail in this bronze piece may relfect a date that is later, but not necessarily after the second half of the first century B. C.

Its association with the bronze Lar, however, makes it likely that the ERCOLE was produced after 12 B. C.

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