Etruscan Bronze Statuette of Heracles
Period: first half of the 4th century B.C.
Dimensions: H: 14.3 cm
Ex-American private collection.
Heracles is represented as a young man, nude and standing in a posture of attack: he advances with his right leg held back and his left slightly bent and forward. The left arm extends towards the observer armed with a bow, while with the right, bent further back, the hero carries his club. Heracles is clothed only in his lion’s skin (leonte), which covers his head like a helmet while the cheek pieces are represented by the jaws of the feline; the paws of the animal are knotted on the chest while the rest of the skin, which hangs from his shoulders, is draped over his left forearm. The hide of the lion is rendered in a realistic fashion by small incisions and, on the vertebral column, by a thick band ornamented with a fi shbone pattern.
The features of the face, precise and naturalistic, the anatomy of the body, finely modeled (musculature of the chest and of the stomach, legs) and the well-balanced movement reproduces the models and the schemas of the Classical Greek figures. The surface of the entire fi gure is covered by a magnifi cent smooth, untouched, dark gray patina. The first traces of the presence of the Greek hero Heracles in Etruria have already appeared by the 7th century B.C. (his Etruscan name, Hercle, retains the memory of its Hellenic origin); in the following century the different legends in his canon rapidly became one of the more sought after artistic themes by the Etruscan ruling classes, and at the end of the century, numerous bronze effigies of the hero were offered in sanctuaries as ex-votos; some other figurines of Heracles/Hercle ornament tripods, candelabra and other furniture elements. The type known as the attacking Hercle, young and nude, of which this figurine represents an example of very good quality, was probably an Etruscan creation of the 5th century B.C. based on Greek models and it persisted up until the Hellenistic period; other comparable Etruscan types are battling Hercle (it seems to be the same type, but the hero does not move forward) and resting Hercle, equipped with apples of the Hesperides and a drinking horn. Their success rapidly expanded past the borders of Etruria, as we find innumerable imitations, often of average artistic quality, in many regions of central to southern Italy.
KOZLOFF, A., and MITTEN, D. G. (ed.), The Gods Delight, The Human Figure in Classical Bronze, Cleveland, 1988, n. 46, pp. 250-254.
MITTEN, D. G., and DOERINGER, S. F., Master Bronzes from the Classical World, Mayence/Rhin, 1967, p. 179, n. 183.
On Heracles in the Etruscan world, see:
Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae (LIMC), vol. V, Zurich, 1990, pp. 196-253, s.v. Herakles/Hercle.