Xenoclea, the oracle of Delphi, commanded that Hercules’s punishment for killing Iphitus, the son of king Eurytus, was to spend a year as the servant of Omphale, queen of Lydia in Asia Minor. This story allowed artists to enjoy scenes of male subjugation, female dominance, and various forms of role reversals and cross dressing. In the present pair of expertly carved (the busts conceived integrally with their socles) and polished busts, Omphale wears Hercules’s traditional symbol of manly prowess, his lion skin, whilst Hercules is dressed in a loose fitting shawl, partly covering his head and tied in fluttering bow at the front.
The undulating, billowing Baroque drapery and animated, theatrical relationship between the busts suggests a date in the second half of the 17th century. The high degree of polish and intricate carving indicate a sculptor working either in Northern Italy, probably Venice, or a Flemish sculptor, probably trained in Italy.