Hercules and the Hydra thumbnail 1
Hercules and the Hydra thumbnail 2
+1
images
Not currently on display at the V&A

Hercules and the Hydra

Fresco
1594 (painted)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

Lodovico Carracci (1555-1619) was taught by Prospero Fontana (1512-1597) and in 1582 he was elected a member of the council of the Compagnia dei Bombasari e Pittori, Bologna. He was a rather successful artist and ran an important workshop with his two younger cousins, Agostino and Annibale Carracci with whom he also founded around 1585 the Accademia degli Incamminati in Bologna. He received important commissions in Bologna and near cities, including wall decorations. He died in Bologna where he spent most of his life in 1619.

The painting is a fresco transferred on canvas, which was executed in 1594 by Lodovico to decorate his cousin's house in Bologna. It shows the ancient Greek hero Hercules just after he killed the Hydra of Lerna, a monstrous sea serpent. The hero is shown sat on a rock, his burning torch in his left hand while he is resting his head on the other. This painting is a good example of the new style influenced by the Venetian art that Lodovico developed in the 1590s.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Fresco transferred to canvas
Brief Description
Fresco, 'Hercules and the Hydra', Lodovico Carracci, 1594
Physical Description
A monumental male figure is sat on a rock, a burning torch in his left hand while resting his head on the other. His right foot is resting on the body of a monstrous serpent.
Dimensions
  • Estimate height: 213.5cm
  • Estimate width: 170cm
Dimensions taken from C.M. Kauffmann, Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1973.
Style
Marks and Inscriptions
'1594' (Dated lower left)
Credit line
Given by the Earl Granville KG
Object history
Given by the Earl Granville, K. G., 1863

Granville was vice-president for the Royal Commission dealing with the Great Exhibition. He was a skilful diplomat, known as 'Pussy' on account of his smoothness. He donated £5,000 to the project, chaired the Committee which worked to involve local communities in the Exhibition, and later the Board that selected loans to the South Kensington Museum (now the V&A).



Historical significance: Formerly attributed to Annibale Carracci when given to the museum in 1863, it has been reattributed to Lodovico Carracci by Otto Kurz in 1937. This detached fresco transferred onto canvas was executed by Lodovico to decorate his cousin's house (Carlo Carracci) in Bologna (Malvasia, 1678).

The fresco is dated 1594 (inscribed lower left) and displayed a Venetian influence, a new style that Lodovico developed in the 1590s.

This painting shows the ancient Greek hero Heracles, Latinised in Hercules, on a rock, with his head leaning upon his wrist and holding a burning torch in the other hand. One of his feet is resting on the dead body of the Hydra. The Hydra of Lerna, a monstrous sea serpent with seven heads, was killed by Hercules as the second of his Twelve Labours, which were given as a penance for slaying his own children in a fit of madness.

The monumentality of the figure contrasts with its melancholic pose while his posture was adapted by Annibale Carracci in his ceiling painting in the Camerino of the Palazzo Farnese, after 1595 as well as in Hercules at the Crossroad, 1596-97, Museo di Capodimonte, Naples. Hercules' melancholic attitude can be explained by the subject matter which presents the hero after he killed the beast, that is after his superhuman action described in the ancient literature as hybris, a force inspired by the gods, left him in a deflated condition.

The fresco was moved to the palace of the Marchese Achille Maria Grassi in Bologna and transferred on canvas in the middle of the 19th century.

Lodovico's art was highly regarded in England in the 18th century by such critics as Joshua Reynolds, but fell out of fashion in the 19th century, and was renewed in the mid-20th century.
Historical context
Fresco painting on wet plaster originated in Antiquity, was reintroduced in the late 13th century and perfected during the Renaissance. This medium was used to decorate large wall areas. Timing was of critical importance and a number of assistants was typically involved. A precise plan in the form of a drawing or of many drawings was required so that the composition would fit exactly on the wall. The artist could draw directly on the wet plaster (this underdrawing technique is called sinopia) or use cartoons (from the Italian word cartone) from which the composition was then transferred onto the wall. Another method of transfer, used especially in the 17th century for vast ceiling frescoes, was squaring, which replaced the time-consuming and costly cartoon technique.
Subjects depicted
Summary
Lodovico Carracci (1555-1619) was taught by Prospero Fontana (1512-1597) and in 1582 he was elected a member of the council of the Compagnia dei Bombasari e Pittori, Bologna. He was a rather successful artist and ran an important workshop with his two younger cousins, Agostino and Annibale Carracci with whom he also founded around 1585 the Accademia degli Incamminati in Bologna. He received important commissions in Bologna and near cities, including wall decorations. He died in Bologna where he spent most of his life in 1619.



The painting is a fresco transferred on canvas, which was executed in 1594 by Lodovico to decorate his cousin's house in Bologna. It shows the ancient Greek hero Hercules just after he killed the Hydra of Lerna, a monstrous sea serpent. The hero is shown sat on a rock, his burning torch in his left hand while he is resting his head on the other. This painting is a good example of the new style influenced by the Venetian art that Lodovico developed in the 1590s.
Bibliographic References
  • Kauffmann, C.M., Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 65, cat. no. 62
  • C. C. Malvasia, Felsina Pittrice, i, 1678, p. 463.
  • C.C. Malvasia, Le pitture di Bologna, 1686, p. 98; reprint, ed. A. Emiliani, 1969, p. (72); new ed. revised by G. P.Cavazzoni Zanotti, 1706, preface, p. 4.
  • O. Kurz, 'A forgotten masterpiece by Lodovico Carracci' in The Burlington Magasine, lxx, 1937, p. 81, repr.
  • H. Bodmer, Lodovico Carracci, 1937, pp. 58, 124, no. 17, pl. 48.
Collection
Accession Number
8368-1863

About this object record

Explore the Collections contains over a million catalogue records, and over half a million images. It is a working database that includes information compiled over the life of the museum. Some of our records may contain offensive and discriminatory language, or reflect outdated ideas, practice and analysis. We are committed to addressing these issues, and to review and update our records accordingly.

You can write to us to suggest improvements to the record.

Suggest Feedback

record createdApril 24, 2007
Record URL