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Monday, June 1, 2020

Giambologna brings Heracles to Life

Yesterday, I featured the beautiful sculpture, "Kidnapping of the Sabine Women" by Giambologna displayed at the Loggia Dei Lanzi in Florence, Italy. Another spectacular work of Giambologna displayed there as well portrays the battle between Heracles and the centaur Nessus.

Nessus was a famous centaur who carried off Deianeira, the wife of Heracles, and tried to force himself on her.  Heracles saw him from across the river and shot a Hydra-poisoned arrow into Nessus's breast. As he lay dying, in a final act of malice, Nessus told Deianeira that his blood would ensure that Heracles would be true to her forever, knowing the blood to be infected with the hydra's poison. 

Sometime later, Deianeira's trust in Heracles began to wane because of his unrequited love for Iole, the daughter of King Eurytus of Oechalia. Heracles had been forbidden to marry Iole because her father, the king, feared she would meet the same fate as Heracles' first wife, Megara, who, along with their children, was murdered by Heracles when the jealous goddess Hera sent Heracles into a fit of madness.  So Heracles, denied Iole,  had married Deianeira instead and Deianeira was painfully aware of being second choice.

Heracles planned to attend a gathering of heroes, and Deianiera feared his passion would get the better of him. So, to bind Heracles to her, Deianeira, remembering what Nessus had said about his blood, spread the centaur's blood on a robe and gave it to her husband. After Heracles left for the gathering, Deianeira accidentally spilled a portion of the centaur's blood onto the floor. To her horror, it began to fume by the light of the rising sun. She instantly recognized it as poison and sent her messenger to warn Heracles but it was too late. Heracles lay dying slowly and painfully as the robe burned his skin.

Images: Hercules (Heracles) and Nessus, 1599, by Giambologna photographed at the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, Italy.

Hercules (Heracles) and Nessus, 1599, by Giambologna photographed at the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, Italy

Hercules (Heracles) and Nessus, 1599, by Giambologna photographed at the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, Italy

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