DELVAUX, Laurent
(b. 1696, Gent, d. 1778, Nivelles)

Hercules and the Erymanthian Boar

Terracotta, height 67,7 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

In the palace of Charles of Lorraine in Brussels, next to the Museum of Ancient Art, stands a more than life-size marble statue of Hercules. The ruler commissioned it in 1768 from the 72-year old Laurent Delvaux to form the newel post of the ceremonial staircase in the hallway of his residence.

The naked Hercules is presented as a strongly muscled man with a club and the skin of the Nemean lion draped over his left arm. At his feet lies the chained Erymanthian boar. After murdering his wife and children, the Pelloponesian hero was required to carry out twelve labours by way of propitiation. One of these was to capture alive the boar that was scourging Mount Erymanthus.

On the club in the marble statue we can make out the year 1770 and the Cross of Lorraine as well as the sign of the Teutonic Order and the monogram C. for Charles. The Hercules statue provided a symbolic vehicle with which Delvaux could subtly allude to his patron's virtues and philosophical insights. The choice of the Greek hero can be explained in two ways. On the one hand he was seen as the ancestor of the French dynasties and hence also of the house of Lorraine. At the same time this mythological hero was seen as the embodiment of the alchemist. When one bears in mind the prince's fascination with esoteric knowledge, the reason for the choice of this mythological figure becomes clear. Not only the statue but the entire staircase should be seen as an illustration of alchemist teaching. The banister of the ceremonial staircase was decorated with bas-reliefs (no longer extant) depicting the labours of Hercules, and the walls of the stairwell with seven stucco reliefs, the subjects of all of which belong in the world of alchemy.

Three terracotta designs for this marble statue are known. The first two are rough outlines. The third, discussed here, matches the final statue. There is no doubt that Delvaux drew his inspiration from antiquity, though this does not prevent his Hercules from appearing somewhat mannered. The artist has succeeded in representing the hero's calm self assurance with plastic anatomical accuracy. Even in reduced format the statue makes a monumental impression. From whichever side or angle one looks at the Hercules, one is always struck by the harmony of the composition.