With A.S. Drey, Munich;
Their forced sale of liquidation stock, Berlin, Paul Graupe,17/18 June, 1936, lot 11, (illustrated plate 17), sold for 3,100 Reichsmarks;
Private Collection, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, 1937;
Archibald George Blomefield Russell, CVO, FSA (1879-1955), London;
Anonymous sale, Stuttgart, Nagel, 5 December 2002, lot 593, (sold pursuant to a settlement agreement with the successors of A.S Drey), when bought by the present owner.
The subject forms one of the Twelve Labours of Hercules. Antaeus was a giant of Libya, the son of Poseidon and Gaia, gods of Sea and Earth. He drew his strength from contact with the earth (his mother), and thus invincible would challenge and kill all comers, with whose skulls he intended to build a temple to Poseidon. Hercules, finding he could not vanquish Antaeus by hurling him to the ground, realised at last the secret of his strength, held him aloft and crushed him in a bearhug.1
Although Cranach painted many episodes from the life and deeds of Hercules, this is one of only two known versions of this particular subject. The other, a slightly larger panel, is now in Vienna, Akademie der bildenden Künst, and depicts the protagonists in a landscape setting with Antaeus held by Hercules with his side rather than his back to the spectator.2 Both panels are generally dated by scholars to around 1530 or a little later. By contrast with the Vienna picture, the present panel concentrates more upon the figures by setting them against a neutral black background of a type long favoured by Cranach in many of his other depictions of the nude, especially his Venuses. These may not have been Cranach's only treatment of the subject, for in his guide to the Schloß at Wittenberg in 1507, Andreas Meinhard refers, among other works by Cranach, to a 'Herkules, der einen nackendedn Kerl zu Tod drückt' among the decorations of the castle, but no such painting now survives.
Although the subject of Hercules and Antaeus was one of the twelve Labours of Hercules, there is no evidence that either this or the Vienna panel ever formed part of a larger cycle. It should more correctly be thought of as a sophisticated cabinet picture, whose owner, particularly among the princely classes, would have readily understood and associated himself with the legends and deeds of the classical hero Hercules, and this tale of the triumph of cunning over brute strength. Even so, Cranach's depiction of the subject must count among the earliest representations of it in the north.3 As Werner Schade has observed, he may have been familiar with earlier engravings of the subject after Mantegna4 or Marcantonio Raimondi, and may even have been familiar with small bronze statues produced in numbers in the wake of the celebrated example of Polluaiolo in the 1470s (Florence, Bargello). A good contemporary German example of around 1510, perhaps to a design by Peter Vischer the Elder, is in Munich, Bayerisches Nationalmuseum.5
1. Apollodorus, Library, 2.5:11.
2. Inv. 1148, 39 by 26.5 cm.. See Friedländer and Rosenberg, under Literature, 1978, p. 122, no. 269, reproduced.
3. Among contemporary depictions of the theme can be counted two by Hans Baldung Grien of 1530 (Warsaw) and 1531 (Kassel), and a lost Jan Gossaert of 1523, now known only through copies.
4. See Schade, under Literature, p. 181, cat. no. 73.
5. Exhibited, Basel, Kunstmuseum, Lukas Cranach, 1974, no. 527.
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