Friday, February 22, 2013

Hercules Masterpiece by Sommer Frères, Paris

Hercules is the Roman name for Greek demigod Heracles, son of Zeus (Ancient Greek: Ζεύς, Zeús; Modern Greek: Δίας, Días,Latin: Iuppiter), and the mortal Alcmene (Ancient Greek: Ἀλκμήνη). 

Statue of a male deity known as "Jupiter of Smyrna". Found in 1670 in Smyrna (now İzmir in Turkey), the statue was brought to Louis XIV and restored as a Zeus ca. 1686 by Pierre Granier, who added the arm raising the lightningbolt. Marble, middle 2nd century CE., Le Louvre Museum, Paris

According to mythology, Heracles was the illegitimate son of Zeus and Alcmene, the wisest and most beautiful of all mortal women.

Alcmene on the pyre.
From a crateros of Paestum (c.a. 350-325 B.C.)
, British Museum

Juno was enraged at Zeus for his infidelity with Alcmene, and even more so that he placed the infant Heracles at Hera’s breast as she slept and allowed him to feed, which caused Heracles to be partially immortal, thus, allowing him to surpass all mortal men in strength, size and skill.

Juno  sent Heracles into a blind frenzy, in which he killed all of his children and his wife. When Heracles regained his sanity, he sought out the Oracle at Delphi in the hope of making atonement. 

Theater, Delphi, Greece

The Oracle ordered Heracles to serve Eurystheus, king of Mycenae, 

King Eurystheus can be seen hiding in a storage jar as Heracles brings him the Erymanthian boar. Side A from a red-figure kylix by Oltos, ca. 510 BC, (Louvre)

who sent him on a series of tasks known as the Labors of Heracles. 

Front panel from a sarcophagus with the Labours of Heracles: from left to right, the Nemean Lion, the Lernaean Hydra, the Erymanthian Boar, the Ceryneian Hind, the Stymphalian birds, the Girdle of Hippolyta, the Augean stables, the Cretan Bull and the Mares of Diomedes. Luni marble, Roman artwork from the middle 3rd century CE. National Museum of Rome.

The first Labor of Heracles
 was to kill the Nemean lion
. When Heracles found the lion, he fired at it with his bow only to discovered the fur's protective property when the arrow bounced harmlessly off the creature's thigh. After some time, Heracles made the lion return to his cave. The cave had two entrances, one of which Heracles blocked; he then entered the other. In those dark and close quarters, Heracles wrestled with the beast at length.

Hercules wrestling the Nemean Lion
Philadelphia L-64-185, Attic red figure stamnos, ca. 490 B.C.
Photograph by Maria Daniels, courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania Museum

Hercules fighting the Nemean Lion. Detail of The Twelve Labours Roman mosaic from Llíria (Valencia, Spain). 200 A.D.

He finally stunned the beast with his club and, using his immense strength, strangled it to death.

After slaying the lion, he tried to skin it with a knife from his belt, but failed. He then tried sharpening the knife with a stone and even tried with the stone itself. Finally, Athena, noticing the hero's plight, told Heracles to use one of the lion's own claws to skin the pelt.

In October 2011, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts returned the top half of Weary Heracles, Greek for Hercules to Turkey where the 1,900-year-old statue is now on display at a museum in Antalya.

Bottom half of Weary Heracles on display at the museum in Antalya. 100 A.D.

Whether inspired by the Weary Heracles of Antalya, or by the statue of Hercules that could be found on the garden grounds of the Cardinal de Richelieu and later Louis the XIVth and Napoleon,

Northern Italy XVIth century Bronze, Hercules slaying the Hydra of Lerne. successively in the gardens of Rueil (belonging to Richelieu), in Louis XIVth's garden at Marly and in Napoleon's garden at Saint-Cloud. Le Louvre Museum. photo courtesy Sophy Laughing

or more likely inspired by the following bas-relief in the Cour Carrée in the Louvre,

Heracles by Philippe-Laurent Roland, 1806. Relief on the left of the central window, droite part of the West façade of the cour Carrée in the Louvre palace, Paris.

this pipe from Sommer Frères, Paris is a powerful late XIXth century rendition of weary Heracles resting on the Nemean lion's pelt while holding the very club with which he slayed the beast.

Pipe by Sommer Frères, Paris, Length: 11"; Height: 3.5"

Pipe by Sommer Frères, Paris, Length: 11"; Height: 3.5"

Pipe by Sommer Frères, Paris, Length: 11"; Height: 3.5"

Pipe by Sommer Frères, Paris, Length: 11"; Height: 3.5"

Pipe by Sommer Frères, Paris, Length: 11"; Height: 3.5"

1 comment:

  1. This is a magnificent article, truly superb. Your work is vastly becoming the new standard for expressing historical research and its synthesization or harmonization of 'human-like' elements found in the various artistic expressions of poetry, the fine arts, and sculpture, the latter to which pipes, of the calibre you present, belong. Thank you for this stunning display of fine art in the medium of pipe making. A late, but welcomed addition to the world of fine quality objects.