The Labors of Heracles as depicted on amphorae and oil paintings - Curated by Tiera Terrell

This gallery is meant to showcase a few of the 12 labors of the Greek demigod Heracles. Shown are the labors in the usual Greek style, through the use of amphorae, and again in oil paintings. Compared are the effects of both styles of art.


The story of this labor is as follows: as his sixth task, Hercules was instructed to get rid of a large gathering of birds that flocked near a lake of the town Stymphalos. As usual of Greek amphorae, few colors are used. The lines used to draw Heracles are smooth and curved, as are those used to draw the birds, though they are draw with slightly harsher angles (the feather, beaks).
Heracles’ final, and most dangerous, labor was to travel to Hell and capture Cerberus, the guardian of the gates of Hell. The amphora has each character, with the exception of Heracles, shaded in black. This is possibly to showcase the dark nature of the other characters, whereas Heracles’ light color was to highlight his success in completing his dangerous mission.
As his fourth labor, Heracles was told by Eurystheus to deliver him the Erymanthian boar alive. The amphora depicts Heracles as doing so, slugging the boar over his shoulder with little effort. The color of this scene, as always with Greek amphorae, is shown in black. The lines are drawn straight, with most of the balance being in the center where Heracles holds the boar.
As his first labor, Heracles was told to bring the skin of an unbeatable lion, which was feared around Nemea, to Eurystheus. Some amphorae show Heracles wearing the head of the lion. Each character is shaded in black, with the lion’s mane being colored in red. The lines are drawn straight and curved, with the focus being Hercules as he overcomes the lion.
For his ninth labor, Eurystheus told Heracles to deliver the belt of Hippolyte to him. As told by the myths, Hippolyte was the queen of the Amazons. The focus of the scene is that of Heracles engaging in an argument with the belts owner. This is also where most of the images balance lies.
Heracles’ second labor was to destroy the Lernean Hydra. The Hydra was a monstrous being with nine heads that caused trouble for the town that lived near the lake it resided in. The image shown shows Heracles and his nephew, Iolaus. Iolaus is often shown as Heracles’ “charioteer”. The color in the amphora chows the horses as being two different colors, and gives color to Iolaus. Heracles is in the middle of the scene, immediately drawing the views focus.
Shown here is a depiction of the fight between Heracles and the Hydra. Unlike the drawings on the amphorae, this oil painting gives a lot more detail. The lines used to portray the muscles of Heracles are curved , but appear rough at the same time. The muscles in Heracles’ arm are drawn tightly, giving a sense of aggressiveness.
As his eleventh labor, Heracles was told to retrieve some of the golden apples that belonged to Zeus. Once again, this oil painting shows a lot more detail than the amphorae. The curved, tense lines to draw the muscles provide a lot of realism, as if the picture were drawn in the moment.
For his seventh labor, Heracles needed to deal with the Bull of Crete. The bull had wrecked havoc on the city of Crete. Heracles handled the bull easily, and then took him to Eurystheus, who then proceeded the set the bull free once again. This oil painting follows the others in similarity, with the same Renaissance look. Although the balance seems fairly equal, the viewers focus would possibly be immediately drawn to the bull, as it appears to be leaking.
Shown here is another depiction of the fight between Heracles and the Lion. This oil painting, like the others, succeeds in showing the struggle between the two, as the ribs of lion are seen tensing through the use of tightly angled lines. Another good showing of tensing muscles are the rough, curved lines used to show tension in Heracles’ calf muscle.
Credits: All media
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