- Museum number
Hercules and the Hydra; nude Hercules holding a club in his right hand, his left hand around a neck of the many-headed monster beside him
Turner and Plazzotta 1991
Hercules is represented turned to the right, kneeling on his left knee and seizing the Hydra by one of its heads with his left hand while preparing to strike it with a club which he holds in his right.
- Production date
Height: 211 millimetres
Width: 310 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Turner and Plazzotta 1991
Guercino is recorded as having painted the subject of Hercules slaying the Hydra twice in his career, once at the beginning and again at the end (Malvasia, 1678, II, pp. 363 and 382; 1841, II, pp. 258 and 271): in 1618 he painted the façade of the Palazzo Tanari with a fresco, now lost, showing the figure as a feigned sculpture in a niche, the appearance of which can be deduced from several surviving preparatory studies (see M, 'Disegni', 1969, no. 29); he painted it a second time on the commission of the "Marchese di Marzera", "Ambasciatore di Spagna che risiede a Venezia" in 1659, for which no corresponding painting survives ('Libro dei Conti', 1808, pp. 149f.; 1841, p. 339). The total payment of 124 scudi for this second commission suggests that this too was a full-length composition.
To judge from its style, 1859,0806.67 may well date from the 1640s or 1650s, some two or three decades after the Tanari commission, from which it also differs in showing the figure in a horizontal rather than a vertical format. On the other hand, the style does not seem late enough to justify a conclusive relationship with the 1659 commission, though it would be rash to rule out such a connection altogether.
Another composition of the same subject by Guercino is also recorded in an undated engraving by Francesco Curti (1610-90), the frontispiece to a volume of engravings by the same printmaker of figure subjects after Guercino dedicated to Marchese Francesco Montecuccoli and aimed at instructing the beginner in drawing (repr. Bagni, 1988, p. 90; see also T,12.17). From the type of subjects included and their treatment, the volume would seem to date from around 1640 or shortly thereafter. In the frontispiece, Hercules holds the burning torch above his head with both hands, thrusting it down upon the cringing Hydra. There are, however, some general resemblances between the frontispiece and 1859,0806.67, namely their horizontal format and the strong diagonal of the man's pose contrasted with the ornamental treatment of the beast.
A double-sided drawing in red chalk for the Hydra, almost certainly for the animal in the present drawing, is in the Palazzo Rosso, Genoa (inv. no. 1685; 253 x 205mm). A pen-and-wash drawing, also in a horizontal format, in the Gabinetto Nazionale delle Stampe, Rome (inv. no. FN 101 (20029), cited in Mahon, 'Disegni', 1969, p. 59, under no. 29), at first sight bears a striking resemblance to the British Museum drawing. The superficial formal relationship is not, however, borne out by the drawing's style which is much closer to the artist's drawings of around 1620 than to those of the 1640s and 1650s. We have been unable to agree on the purpose of the Rome drawing, though we are inclined to favour its connection with the Palazzo Tanari commission.
For the application of the Bouverie stamp (L 325) to drawings in the 1859 Gainsborough sale, see 1895,0915.704.
Literature: BM Repr., II (1891), no. 19; Russell, 1923, p. 50; Salerno, I Dipinti del Guercino, Rome 1988; Mahon, Il Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, 1591-1666): Catalogo critico dei disegni, exh. cat., Bologno, Palazzo dell'Archiginnasio, 11 September -18 November 1968; second corrected edn, October 1969; Bagni, Il Guercino e i suoi incisori, Rome, 1988.
This drawing was issued as a coloured facsimile by the British Museum in 'Reproductions of Drawings by Old Masters in the British Museum', Part II, Published by the Trustees, in 1891 where it was number XIX and described there as 'Giovanni Francesco Barbieri ("Guercino"), Hercules and the Hydra.'
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number