This magnificent and exuberant marble bust shows Omphale, queen of Lydia, draped in Hercules' lion pelt, the smooth skin of her bared breasts contrasting with the fur and claws of the lion. The story of Hercules and Omphale has been favoured by artists since antiquity because of its gender role reversal which could be exploited for comic effect. According to Sophocles, Hercules was punished by Zeus for the murder of Iphitus by enslavement for a year under Omphale. In paintings and sculptures of the subject Omphale appears draped in Hercules' most recognisable attribute, the lion skin, and often holds his club, whilst Hercules appears dressed as a woman and performs women's work, as described by Ovid. The belle époque
sculptor Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse has used the story to dramatic effect in this striking bust. The giant lion paws around Omphale's shoulders are both audacious and playful, lending to the marble a sense of comedy which is innate in the Greek myth.
J. Hargrove and G. Grandjean, Carrier-Belleuse: Le maïtre de Rodin, exh. cat. Palais de Compiègne, Paris, 2014