The Labors of Hercules

This gallery represents the many adventures and feats of the renowned mythological hero Hercules/Heracles. Included are paintings, sculptures and other mediums which show a few episodes from Hercules' twelve labors and culminate in his ascension to Olympus. 

Gilded bronze statue of Hercules, IV Century B.C., From the collection of: Musei Capitolini
To begin the collection, I chose a statue of Hercules from 4th century B.C. For those unfamiliar with the myth, Hercules/Heracles/Herakles was the epitome of manly strength in mythology which was caused by him being a demigod. His father was Zeus, the god of gods, and his mother was a mortal, Alceme. Hercules is famous for his many adventures and labors where he completed impossible tasks. This statue shows Hercules in the peak of physical form and his physical perfection will be seen in the continuing images in the gallery.
Figure of Hercules and Nemean Lion, Ludwigsburg Porcelain Factory, c. 1775, From the collection of: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Hercules' first task was to kill the Nemean Lion that was terrorizing the citizens of Nemean. In this sculpture, Hercules is seen ripping the lion's jaw apart, a feat no mortal man could accomplish. The style of the sculpture is Hellenistic, because of the intense physicality of the piece. Hercules is ripping apart a lions jaw while maintaining a relaxed face, implying it is not a challenge for him.
Hercules and the Hydra and Hercules and Anteo, Antonio del Pollaiolo, Around 1475, From the collection of: Uffizi Gallery
Next Hercules had to kill the nine-headed Hydra. In this depiction Hercules is wearing the lionskin from his previous feat, and it is a motif in many depictions of Hercules. The focus of the painting is on the hero delivering the final blow, but upon closer look the town that is being saved by Hercules can be seen in the distant background.
Hercules Killing the Birds of Lake Stymphalis, Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, 1909, From the collection of: Musée d’Orsay, Paris
Continuing on, Hercules' sixth task was the slay the birds plaguing Lake Stymphalis, seen in this statue. Hercules draws a mighty bow and launches arrows to defeat the birds not depicted in this piece. Hercules' body is once again the focus of the statue, but his face is much different from the relaxed faces seen in previous works.
Myt Clas Hercules Labours Engs & Paintings, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
In this painting Hercules is defeating the Cretan Bull. His muscles are rippling throughout his body and his takes the bull by the horns and slams him into the ground. The lionskin is again seen in this painting, but his face is mostly hidden, placing the emphasis on his body.
Hercules Feeding Diomedes to his Horses, Luca Giordano, 1680/1690, From the collection of: Fondazione Cariplo
This painting of Hercules shows his ruler side as he feeds Diomedes to his horses. The labor was to simply steal his horses, but the artist takes it a step further and shows Diomedes dead body being feasted on by his horses. The painting is done in a classic style, and the darkness of the painting reflects the darkness of Hercules' actions.
Hercules steels the apples from the Hesperides, Marco Marchetti from Faenza, 1555/1556, From the collection of: Palazzo Vecchio Museum
One of the last labors for Hercules is stealing the apples from Hesperides. These golden apples can grant immortality, and once again Hercules is successful in completing the task. He is seen wielding a club, which has also been seen in previous works, but his body is much different in this painting. His muscles are disproportionate to his feat and hands giving him a less serious appearance. His back is also the only side we see of him, so that the focus goes to Hesperides' agonizing face.
Detail of Sarcophagus with Hercules and Cerberus, Second Half of the II century AD, From the collection of: Centrale Montemartini
Hercules' final task was to go down to Hades and defeat the monster Cerberus, which guards the underworld. In this side panel of a sarcophagus, Hercules peaks around the corner while controlling what appears to be a a subdued Cerberus. The symbolism of placing this image on a Sarcophagus could imply the finality of death, this being Hercules' final labor. It could also imply that whomever is in the sarcophagus led a monumental life, like Hercules, and that will continue on after death.
Myt Clas Hercules Labours Engs & Paintings, From the collection of: LIFE Photo Collection
In this very intense picture, Hercules is actually fighting Cerberus, and all three heads of the beast are depicted. The lack of color does not hinder this painting at all. The details of the muscles, the fur of the beast, and the fire in Hades, are all crisper because the work is just black white, and shades of gray.
The Apotheosis of Hercules, François Lemoyne, 1731 - 1736, From the collection of: Palace of Versailles
For the final piece I picked the Apotheosis of Hercules. Hercules wanted to gain entrance in Olympus and be reunited with his father, Zeus. This painting done if High Renaissance style, shows Hercules' ascension and inclusion with the many gods and goddess. The painting is rich with color, and the business of the gods and goddess is balanced by the simple sky and clouds which bring the focus to the figure being draped in gold, who is presumably Hercules.
Credits: All media
This user gallery has been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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