371
371
Circle of Giambologna (1529-1608)
Italian, Florence, late 16th century

HERCULES SLAYING THE LERNEAN HYDRA
JUMP TO LOT
371
Circle of Giambologna (1529-1608)
Italian, Florence, late 16th century

HERCULES SLAYING THE LERNEAN HYDRA
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Old Master Sculpture & Works of Art

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Circle of Giambologna (1529-1608)
Italian, Florence, late 16th century

HERCULES SLAYING THE LERNEAN HYDRA
marble, on a modern metal stand
marble: 55cm., 21 5/8 in.
66cm., 26in. overall
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Catalogue Note

Despite being a fragment, the spiralling composition of the present torso immediately demonstrates the involvement of one of the most innovative sculptors of the Renaissance, Giambologna. The wonderfully studied pose of the figure’s torso and limbs enables the onlooker to complete the original intentions of its carver: the right arm is raised and his gaze directed towards the lower right. The left arm points straight down in front of the twisting upper body. The position of the hips is perpendicular to the shoulders with the legs spread apart suggesting a firm stance and thus that the nude is coiling to strike at something below. In fact, the marble quotes the composition of Giambologna’s Hercules and the Lernean Hydra, in which the hero stands over the many-headed beast, has it by the tail with his left hand and twists to his right to swing at the writhing snake-like heads. The original wax model for the composition survives in the Palazzo Vecchio and a number of bronzes versions exist, including a fine cast in the National Gallery of Ireland. (see Paolozzi Strozzi/ Zikos, op.cit., nos. 14 and 15)

Giambologna conceived his statuette of Hercules and the Lernean Hydra as part of a series of the Labours of Hercules commissioned by Francesco de’ Medici in 1576. In a now famous letter of 1581 to the Duke of Urbino, the agent Simone Fortuna mentions the instant success of the figures and that the sculptures eclipsed even those of Michelangelo and Apelles (see Avery, op.cit., pp. 251-252). Bronze casts of the Labours were produced by Giambologna’s workshop and his followers for the European nobility for decades to follow.

Giambologna’s composition of the present model is thought to derive from marbles from Antiquity that he had studied early on in his career and clearly also references Michelangelo’s Samson and the Philistines, of which a stucco model is kept in the Casa Buonarotti whilst early bronze casts are now in the Bargello and Berlin (Paolozzi  Strozzi/ Zikos, op.cit., p. 47). Michelangelo was the key influence for Giambologna’s generation and it is therefore not surprising that Giambologna had already been inspired by the Samson group for his rendition of the subject from 1562.  

This is the only known version of the composition in marble. Giambologna worked on single figures in marble on several occasions, mainly early on in his career, including the Putto for the Ospedale degli Innocenti now in Douai, the Fata Morgana and the Venus of the Grotticella. Their supple musculature and soft modelling compare well to the present figure. This is particularly evident on the reverse with its typical recessed spine. The execution of the hair, with voluminous curls at the front and closely cropped and more summary towards the back of the head, is similar to the Putto while the general shape of the curls can also be seen Fata Morgana’s hair. The concentrated gaze, obtained by enlarged eyes with strongly delineated eyelids, is equally characteristic of these figures. Sadly, no document about a marble Hercules or further marble Labours of Hercules by Giambologna survive. Several of Giambologna’s pupils, like Pietro Tacca and Pietro Francavilla, executed their master’s designs in marble.

RELATED LITERATURE
C. Avery, Giambologna. The complete sculpture, London, 1987; M. Bury, ‘Giambologna’s Fata Morgana rediscovered’, Apollo Magazine, no. 336, February 1990, pp. 96-100; B. Paolozzi Strozzi and D. Zikos (eds.), Giambologna, gli dei, gli eroi. Genisi e fortuna di uno stile europeo nella scultura, exh. cat. Florence, 2006

Sotheby's would like to thank Rosario Coppel for her assistance with cataloguing this lot. A full expertise by Professor Coppel is available from the department.

Old Master Sculpture & Works of Art

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London