A contemplative Hercules occupies the center of this monumental painting. On the right, a personification of Pleasure gestures to playing cards, musical instruments, and theatrical masks. Here, the landscape is rich, green, and floral. On the left, Virtue points to Hercules’s winged horse Pegasus. There, the road is winding, and the landscape is arid. Yet a poet crowned in laurels at the picture’s bottom left assures Hercules that Virtue will lead to great renown.
This painting once graced the center of the ceiling in a small room known as the Camerino in the Farnese Palace in Rome. The room’s iconography was determined by the palace’s librarian, Fulvio Orsini, who knew the fifth-century Ancient Greek parable involving Hercules from its retelling by Cicero. Cardinal Odoardo Farnese selected Annibale to execute the Camerino’s decor, which the artist completed between 1595–97.