Peter Paul Rubens, Hercules victorious over Discord, a drawing

Flanders, AD 1615-22

A statue brought to life

Hercules was the classical figure famous for his heroic deeds. Above Hercules two little angels hold a victor's wreath. The hero himself turns towards us, his huge club resting on a rock. Over his shoulder is the skin of the Nemean lion which, as one of his Twelve Labours, he had strangled and skinned.

This large drawing is made in red chalk with just a few touches in black chalk. It is based on an enormous classical statue of Hercules that, previously lost since antiquity, was found in the Baths of Caracalla in Rome in 1540. The statue is known as the Farnese Hercules (now in the Museo Nazionale, Naples) after the family who once owned and housed it in their Roman palace. Rubens would have seen the statue when he was in Italy between 1601 and 1608. That time he was working for the Gonzaga rulers of Mantua, as well as collecting and studying classical art and literature, a major inspiration for his own paintings.

The scale and heroic musculature in the drawing are clearly based on the original statue, though Rubens may have based it on a version of the Farnese statue in his own collection of classical antiquities. Stylistically, the drawing is dated after his visit to Italy, to the period 1615 to 1622.

With broad strokes of the chalk and vigorous shading, Rubens has succeeded in bringing a statue to life.

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More information


J. Rowlands, Rubens: drawings and sketches (London, The British Museum Press, 1977)

C. White, Peter Paul Rubens: man and art (New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1987)


Height: 474.000 mm
Width: 320.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1900-8-24-138


Bequeathed by Henry Vaughan


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