Join us on a journey from Antiquity to the 20th Century to meet real and legendary heroic figures in twelve works from the museum's collections. Discover mythological heroes—notable for their fabulous adventures and their close ties with the divine world—and the sometimes controversial warriors of history who made their mark through their political or warlike acts. The narrative and symbolic scope of their destiny has made them inexhaustible sources of inspiration for artists. The audio tracks stored on the museum's audio guide expand on the work in the gallery.

Oenochoe, Herakles and the Nemean lion
Greece, Athens, 1st quarter of the 5th Century BC, ceramic with black figures and colored highlights.

Herakles was charged with 12 impossible labors by the king of Tiryns. One of these was to fight the Nemean lion who terrorized the region of Argolid, devouring its inhabitants. He managed to defeat him after a fierce battle by choking him with his bare hands.

Herakles is the only mythological figure honored in all regions of the ancient Greek world. He is also the only one to be granted immortality and to sit among the gods of Olympus.

On the main body of this oenochoe—a vase used in antiquity for serving wine—Herakles (Hercules to the Romans) is shown fighting a lion.

The attributes of the demigod—the club and the lion's skin—are suspended above them.

Vercingetorix Stater
Gaul, Middle of 1st Century BC, Gold

Vercingetorix, though vanquished, was lauded as a hero after the turbulent times of the revolution, during which France glorified national sentiments and rediscovered its past.

This gold stater, struck during the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar, was discovered in Puy-de-Dome in 1852. It's one of the most famous Gaulish coins. It is very rare and the last letters of the name of the Gaulish chief Vercingetorix—RIXS—are still legible around its edge.

This coin does not, strictly speaking, depict the portrait of Vercingetorix, the chief of the Gauls; it is modeled on a Greek or Roman coin representing Apollo.

Revers du statère

Ce statère en or est l'une des plus célèbres monnaies gauloises... Il a été frappé en 52 avant J.-C. à l'époque de la conquête des Gaules par César...
Saint George slaying the dragon
Lucien Bégule et Eugène Grasset, 1889, verre et plomb

In the Middle Ages, Saint George embodied the chivalrous ideal and was a symbol of the victory of good over evil.

One day, George, an officer of the Roman army, comes across a city terrorized by an insatiable dragon that demands a daily tribute of a young person, selected at random.

Hearing the cries of the princess in the distance—whose turn it is to suffer this dreadful fate—George decides to face the monster, whom he brings down with his spear.
Hailed as a hero, he declares that he is the envoy of God. Faced with this miracle, the people then agreed to convert to Christianity.

La légende de saint Georges et le dragon
Battle scene
Francesco Bassano, 1585-1590, Oil on canvas

Here, the Venetian painter Francesco Bassano depicts the capture of Naples by the French King Charles VIII, eager to reconquer this former French province. Yet, this battle never took place…

On February 22, 1495, Charles VIII was given the keys of the city without having to fight, since the King of Spain Ferdinand II, holder of the kingdom of Naples, fled before the arrival of his troops.

Representing the King of France in valiant combat, the artist makes a hero of him. He accentuates the imaginary character of the scene by plunging it into a dark atmosphere with unrealistic lighting.

David giving thanks to God after the death of Goliath
Anonymous, 1st half of the 17th Century, Oil on canvas

David's struggle against Goliath, a theme highly valued by both artists and sponsors, represents the superiority of courage and moral values over physical strength.

This biblical episode from the Old Testament takes place during the war between the people of Israel and the Philistines.

As the two armies face each other, the giant Goliath, champion of the Philistines, challenges the opposing soldiers to a duel that will determine the outcome of the fight.

Only the young shepherd David, come to bring food to his elder brothers at the front, accepts. Armed with his sling, he pits himself against Goliath in the name of God.

Having succeeded in stunning the giant, he seizes his sword and cuts off his head.

Goliath's imposing corpse, painted in shortened form, occupies two thirds of the composition.

David, kneeling, raises his arms to the heavens in thanksgiving, while in the background, the battle rages.

Achilles among the daughters of Lycomedes
Adrien Dassier, 1669, Oil on canvas

Achilles personifies the warrior hero, who prefers a brief and glorious life to a long, peaceful, but unremarkable existence.
Who is this young girl looking at the man with the turban facing her, while pulling the blade out of his scabbard with a vigorous and sure gesture?

Ulysses, disguised among cloth merchants, has just unmasked Achilles, while he lived peacefully with the daughters of King Lycomedes.

As told by Homer in the Iliad, Achilles—the hero of the Trojan war—was hidden by his mother, the nymph Thetis, to whom an oracle predicted the death of her son before the walls of Troy.

When fighting at Troy, Achilles dies when Paris shoots him in the heel with an arrow guided by Apollo.

Tournament
Pierre Révoil, 1812, Oil on canvas
Écoutez le commentaire audio de l'oeuvre

The fashion for medieval heroes embodying chivalrous values ​​experienced a revival in the literature and figurative arts of the early 19th Century.

This tournament scene depicts the first joust for which the young Bertrand Du Guesclin won fame in Rennes in 1337.

Going against his father's wishes, and after having been loaned equipment, he registered to compete anonymously. He defeated each of his opponents in turn to win the final battle.

The final fighter managed to raise the visor of his helmet with his spear and revealed his identity.

Du Guesclin became a great figure of the Hundred Years War, during which he commanded the French royal army.

The painter Pierre Révoil depicts the details minutely, showing a desire for archaeological precision.

With an event from the Middle Ages as its chosen subject, it belongs to the "anecdotal genre" known as "troubadour painting."

Judith at the gates of Bethulia
Jules Ziegler, 1847, Oil on canvas

Judith embodies the image of the valiant and liberating woman with exemplary courage, and the victory of the weak against the strong.

The story of Judith, taken from the book of Judith in the Old Testament, is the subject of many paintings by Botticelli, Caravaggio, and Gustav Klimt.

In this scene, taken from the Old Testament, Judith brandishes the head of Holofernes, the Assyrian general whose army besieged the city of Bethulia. Through this murderous act, she liberates the city and saves its people.

Having succeeded in penetrating the enemy's camp, this young widow seduced Holofernes—who organized a banquet in her honor—and then took advantage of his drunkenness to execute him.

Still consumed by her act, she stares straight ahead with a deliberate and determined look. With the exception of the drop of sweat on her forehead, her face betrays no emotion.

A powerful diagonal, linking Holofernes' head with the weapon that decapitated him, animates the composition. The light coming from the left illuminates the Far Eastern-looking face of the young woman, which is further highlighted by her orange jewelry and her cream-colored embroidered clothing.

Episode from the Russian Campaign
Nicolas Toussaint Charlet, 1836, Oil on canvas

Breaking with the traditional codes of battle painting, the painter chose to portray simple soldiers rather than the general at the head of his troops.

The artist does not avoid any of the suffering of these men who are plunged into the hard winter climate …

... under an apocalyptic sky, evoking the romantic concept of the sublime and the insignificance of the man in the face of nature.

Unveiled to the Salon of 1836 in Paris, this painting, raising the people to the rank of the new protagonists of History, aroused the admiration of many contemporaries, such as Alfred de Musset, Eugene Delacroix, and Victor Hugo.

The Communion of Joan of Arc
Maurice Denis, 1909, Oil on canvas


Kneeling on the edge of a battlefield, Joan of Arc is about to receive the sacrament of communion.

The painter has chosen a tight frame, a vibrant color palette, and an interplay of vertical lines to focus the attention on this solemn scene.

An emblematic figure of the Hundred Years War, Joan was born around 1412 in Domrémy (Lorraine), to a family of wealthy farmers.

Affirming that she had heard supernatural voices ordering her to liberate France, she succeeded, in 1429, in persuading the Dauphin Charles VII to send an army to Orleans, which was besieged by the English.

Having succeeded in liberating the city, she had King Charles VII crowned at Reims. Captured by the Burgundians, allies of the English, she was taken to Rouen, where she was tried as a heretic and burnt alive in 1431.

Completed in 1909, this work was of some relevance at the time: beatified by Pope Pius X that year, Joan of Arc—a heroine who was both mystical and warrior-like—was canonized in 1920.

Perseus and the Gorgon
Laurent Marqueste, 1890, Marble
Le mythe de Méduse la Gorgone...

To help him complete this dangerous undertaking, the gods offer him winged sandals, a shield, a sword…

... and a helmet of invisibility!

In a vain attempt to retaliate, she howls with anger and terror.
The twisting of her body continues all the way up to her serpentine hair, one of whose heads is wrapped around Perseus' wrist.

The ancient Greeks saw Perseus as the heroic protector of the cosmos—the order of the world—who had killed Medusa, and then rid the Earth of other monsters.

Herakles kills the birds of Lake Stymphale
Antoine Bourdelle, 1909-1924, Bronze, partially adorned with gold

The myth of Herakles, the ultimate heroic figure, has been a source of inspiration for many artists, from Antiquity to the present day.

Pour expier le meurtre de son épouse et de ses fils, commis dans un moment de folie, Héraklès est contraint de réaliser 12 travaux presque impossibles qui lui sont imposés par son ennemi, le roi de Mycène...

At the beginning of the 20th Century—in testimony to the impact of this sculpture—its image was adapted for advertising and even school exercise books.

Credits: Story

Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon
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stephane.degroisse@mairie-lyon.fr
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Photos : © MBA Lyon - Alain Basset, Stéphane Degroisse, Mathilde Hospital

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