Lespingola’s Herculean subjects appear to be the only consistent group of bronzes that are credibly attributable to him, aside from his Death of Dido group. They all tend toward the theatrical; the gestures are elegant and the drapery is billowing. The bronzes are also didactic and although multi-figural, the compositions are incredibly fluid. As evidenced by the present bronze, Lespingola worked his surfaces with a keen attention to detail and with an interest in revealing the way in which light plays off varied surface textures. There is a vibrant contrast between the treatment of the flesh, feathers, vegetation and armour seen here. Lespingola captured the dynamic moment when Prometheus is balanced precipitously on the rocky surface of Mount Caucasus while Hercules bounds toward the screeching eagle. A youth reclines along the back of the rocky landscape. Avery (1988, op. cit.,) suggests that this figure represents “the first man” (a prototype to Adam) who Prometheus modelled out of clay and animated with the fire he stole from Apollo.
It is known that Lespingola cast his bronzes in parts; the figures and attributes were often exchanged and some of the figures have appeared as independent bronzes. There are known casts of Hercules, for example, one of which is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Apparently the present figure of Hercules was cast from another, early bronze, and then later added to this Prometheus group.
The other known casts of this subject have slight variations in the modelling of the figures, the attributes and the rocky outcropping, making each bronze, in principle, unique.
Prometheus, god of fire, and was incredibly resourceful. He outwitted Zeus and angered him to such an extent that Zeus sentenced him to a life of agony and had him chained to a rock while an eagle pecked at his liver for eternity. On his way to find the apples at the Garden of the Hesperides, Hercules' eleventh labour, he found Prometheus, shot the eagle and freed Prometheus.
Lespingola was employed under Louis XIV. In 1666, he was sent to Rome with a royal scholarship and during that time he was nominated as a member of the Academy of St. Luke. Upon his return to Paris, Lespingola was admitted to the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture and he provided many works of art for the royal gardens at Versailles. His time in Rome, as well the work of sculptors such as Bernini and Algardi, influenced Lespingola’s theatrical compositions. His copies after the Antique were well-known including the Ludovisi Gaul, which was replicated by Lespingola in Rome in 1684 for Versailles; it still stands, paired with Laocoön, at the entrance to the Tapis Vert. In Paris, his principle work was a relief of The Pope Blessing St. Louis and his Children for the church of Les Invalides (Souchal, op. cit., p. 416, no. 27).
F. Souchal, French Sculptures of the 17th and 18th Centuries. The reign of Louis XIV, Oxford, 1981, vol. II, pp. 420-421
F. Souchal, French Sculptors of the 17th and 18th Centuries. The reign of Louis XIV, vol. IV, supplement A-Z, London, 1993
Krahn, Volker (ed.), Von allen Seiten schön. Rückblicke auf Ausstellung und Kolloquium. Band I. Dokumentation zu Ausstellung und Kolloquium, Cologne, 1996, pp. 111-124, p. 117
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