Lot 25
  • 25

SEBASTIANO RICCI | Hercules and Deianira, with the dying centaur Nessus

80,000 - 120,000 GBP
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  • Circle of Sebastiano Ricci
  • Hercules and Deianira, with the dying centaur Nessus
  • oil on canvas
  • 69.2 x 104.6 cm.; 27 1/4  x 41 1/8  in.


With Thomas P. Grange, London; With Galerie Sanct Lucas, Vienna, by 1962;

From whom acquired in 1964 by the present owner.


E. Martini, La pittura veneziana del settecento, Venice 1964, p. 151, under n. 38, reproduced fig. 46;
C. Donzelli and G.M. Pilo, I Pittori del seicento Veneto, Florence 1967, p. 352;

R. Pallucchini, 'Schede Venete settecentesche', in Arte Veneta, 1971, p. 154, reproduced fig. 197 (as datable to circa 1700);

J. Daniels, L'opera completa di Sebastiano Ricci, Milan 1976, p. 97, cat. no. 122, reproduced;

J. Daniels, Sebastiano Ricci, Bath 1976, pp. 78 and 109, cat. no. 256 and under cat. no. 389, reproduced fig. 178;

A. Scarpa, Sebastiano Ricci, Milan 2006, p. 293, under cat. no. 422.


The following condition report is provided by Henry Gentle who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: Sebastiano Ricci Hercules and Deianira Oil on canvas, 30"x 40", approx. The original canvas is lined. The paint layer is stable and secure but has been overheated by a previous lining campaign and the impasto has been compromised. Under U-V light scattered restorations can be detected across the surface. Restoration can be detected along the bottom edge and to mitigate loss along the top stretcher mark. There is minor loss through Hercules' torso and around the head of Deianira. The removal of the degraded and discoloured varnish would improve the tonal quality of the image. Overall, in a well preserved condition.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

Sebastiano Ricci treated the myth of Hercules and Deianira, a subject that was evidently favoured by both the artist and his patrons, in a number of paintings. In at least three of these Ricci depicts Hercules slaying the centaur,1 while in another, as here, he has chosen to represent the subsequent episode – the couple reunited, contemplating Nessus’ body as he lies dying. Stylistically and thematically, the present painting is strikingly akin to Ricci’s series decorating the hall in the Palazzo Fulcis-Bertoldi in Belluno, begun in 1703, including Hercules and Omphale and The Choice of Hercules,2 leading Daniels to suggest a date of circa 1702 for the present painting. In its heroic subject matter and particularly in Ricci’s use of chiaroscuro, this is a fine example of a painting conceived in the tradition of the late Baroque, described with Ricci’s characteristically brilliant and spirited brushwork. On a journey, Nessus helped Deianira to cross the river Evenus before attempting to rape her, leading Hercules to slay him with a poisoned arrow (tipped with the blood of the Hydra that he had defeated during the second of his Twelve Labours). With his dying breath, Nessus bade Deianira take a vial of his blood, promising that it would serve as a love potion. When Hercules later began courting Iole, daughter of Eurytus, Deianira doused his shirt in the centaur's blood, wanting to ensure the hero's affection for herself. Upon touching the garment and the poisonous blood, Hercules was seized with agony and eventually built his own funeral pyre on which to die. Deianira, realising she had been tricked and had unwittingly killed her own husband, took her own life. Her Greek name translates as 'destroyer of husband', or 'destroyer of man.'

Ricci’s other painting of the present subject is that which forms part of a scheme of eight mythological canvases that still hang in the Salone da Ballo, in the Palazzo Taverna (formerly Palazzo Gabrielli), Rome, commissioned by the patrician, marchese Pietro Gabrielli (1660–1734).3 That painting is framed differently and of smaller dimensions to the rest of the series, and may possibly have been executed earlier than the other works, which are datable to circa 1720. In any case, it seems likely that the present painting served as the basis for the Palazzo Taverna picture, in which Hercules is depicted with a quiver of arrows, in keeping with the myth, rather than the traditional attribute of the club that he holds here.

1 See, for example, Hercules killing Nessus, oil on canvas, 264 x 194 cm., formerly in the collection of marchese Cesare Pagani; Scarpa 2006, pp. 346–47, cat. no. 568, reproduced in colour plate XII and fig. 158.

2 See Scarpa 2006, pp. 147–48, cat. nos 17 and 18, reproduced in colour plates XXV and XXVI, and figs 186 and 188.

3 Oil on canvas, 119 x 165 cm.; see Scarpa 2006, p. 293, cat. no. 422, reproduced fig. 530.