POLLAIUOLO, Antonio del
(b. 1431/32, Firenze, d. 1498, Roma)

Hercules and Antaeus

c. 1478
Tempera on wood, 16 x 9 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

The subject is taken from Apollodorus (2.5:11). On his way back from the Hesperides, Hercules engaged in a wrestling match with the giant Antaeus who was invincible as long as some part of him touched the earth, from which he drew his strength. Hercules held him in the air in a vice-like grip, until he weakened and died. Hercules is depicted with his arms locked round the waist of Antaeus, crushing the giant's body to his own.

In pendant with the Hercules and the Hydra this little wood was maybe a decorative panel of furnishing: it had probably to reproduce the subject painted on large canvas in a room of the Florentine Medici palace at the time of Lorenzo the Magnificent. The struggle of Hercules against the giant Antaeus was an iconographical theme proper for Antonio del Pollaiuolo's style, suitable to express dynamic tension of limbs and muscles, as well as the anatomical study of human body.

Hercules, the tutelary deity of Florence, the symbol of supreme civil virtues, the typical Florentine hero, is represented here in a fierce struggle which captures not only the movement of the bodies, but also the nervous tension of every muscle and the faces twisted into expressions of fatigue and horror.

The subject was particularly popular with Pollaiuolo, given that this is the fourth or fifth version. The artist realized in fact the same subject again for Medici family, as the famous bronzetto now at the National Museum of Bargello in Florence.