POLLAIUOLO, Antonio del
(b. 1431/32, Firenze, d. 1498, Roma)
Hercules and Antaeus1470s
Bronze, height 45 cm
Museo Nazionale del Bargello, 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.
Pollaiuolo's background as goldsmith equipped him to respond to the taste for small bronzes in the last third of the 15th century. The statuettes, frequently patinated to resemble antique bronzes, were meant for conoisseurs.
The Hercules and Antaeus demonstrate Pollaiuolo's knowledge of anatomy (from dissecting corpses) and his ability to represent physical and emotional violence. The group was famous in the artist's own lifetime: Leonardo studied it and Michelangelo included a sketch of it on a sheet illustrating bronze casting. It is one of the earliest appearences of a mythological subject in the round. The unusual poses of the protagonists correspond to those painted by Pollaiuolo on a panel in the Uffizi, which is related to a larger lost painting for the Medici Palace.