Hercules’ labor to gather the apples of the Hesperides took him through the kingdom of Libya, where all were challenged by the giant Antaeus. Antico’s bronze depicts the moment of Hercules’ victory, when he lifts Antaeus from the earth, breaking the link to the giant’s source of strength, his mother, the earth deity Gaia. The subject is derived from a well-known ancient marble fragment of a double torso in Rome that Antico must have studied during one of his visits.
On the underside of its base, this powerful statuette bears the cast-in inscription, D / ISABEL / LA / ME / MAR, an abbreviation of “Diva Isabella Marchesa of Mantua.” This dedication, unique among Antico’s works, identifies the patron, Isabella d’Este, and confirms her special relationship to the artist. Antico wrote to Isabella in April 1519 and offered to provide certain models he had cast for bishop-elect Ludovico Gonzaga, including Hercules and Antaeus, and the Vienna bronze must have been produced later that year. Isabella appears to have placed the bronze on a cornice in her grotta, where it is recorded in an inventory of 1542. When Antico described Hercules and Antaeus in his letter to Isabella as the “most beautiful antiquity that there was,” he must have been referring not to the highly damaged original marble, but to his own skillfully reconstructed model.
The refinement of Antico’s reconstruction is matched by the techniques used to produce this bronze. He pioneered the use of indirect lost-wax casting, which allowed multiple bronzes to be produced from a single model, even this complex two-figure group. A second Hercules and Antaeus is now at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and is generally thought to be the cast made for Ludovico Gonzaga. The Vienna statuette records Antico at the peak of his casting abilities, a fact that is only fully revealed by examining the interior using X-radiography. The bronze is of remarkable thinness and the figures are hollow throughout, unlike the more heavily cast Frankfurt Apollo Belvedere or New York Hercules, which were probably produced more than two decades earlier.
References: Hermann 1909/1910, 264–266; Leithe-Jasper 1986, 76–80, cat. 9; Allison 1993/1994, 142–148, cat. 18B; Trevisani and Gasparotto 2008, 236–237, cat. VI.11 (entry by Claudia Kryza-Gersch)
Hercules and Antaeus (detail of underside of base), 1519
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Kunstkammer
Isabella d’Este (1474–1539)
became Antico’s principal patron after the death of her husband’s uncle, the bishop Ludovico Gonzaga, in 1511. The daughter of the Duke of Ferrara, Ercole d’Este, Isabella married the Marchese of Mantua, Francesco Gonzaga, in 1490. She became famous in her own time for her dynamic personality and cultural sophistication and was one of the few women to create a studiolo. Antico made bronzes that were preserved on cornices in her studiolo. After her husband’s death in 1519 Isabella became regent of Mantua for her son Federico Gonzaga.
Giancristoforo Romano, Isabella d'Este, after 1498, bronze, National Gallery of Art, Samuel H. Kress Collection
Ludovico Gonzaga (1460–1511)
became Antico’s second patron after Ludovico’s brother Gianfrancesco died in 1496. Ludovico became bishop-elect of Mantua in 1484 but was never consecrated to that office. He lived instead in his territories outside Mantua, later moving to Antonia del Balzo’s castle at Gazzuolo. His correspondence provides much information on Antico’s work.
Letter of Ludovico Gonzaga (signature), 8 September 1503, Archivio di Stato, Mantua
A small private space, sumptuously decorated, built by Renaissance princes in their castles to house their collections of ancient coins and antiquities, gems, natural curiosities, musical instruments, illuminated manuscripts, and other precious works of art.
An inner room, part of Isabella d’Este’s studiolo was named grotta for the low barrel-vaulted ceiling (similar to a grotto) of its first location in the Castello di San Giorgio in Mantua. After 1519 Isabella moved her studiolo and grotta to a new location in the ducal palace, illustrated here.
Photo Credit: Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua, Italy
Indirect Lost-wax Casting
A casting method that produces multiple bronzes from a single model. A wax model was prepared in the form of the desired bronze figure (A). A plaster piece mold would be prepared around the model, then disassembled and the model removed (B). The mold was reassembled, tightly bound, and used to cast a wax copy in several parts. For solid parts, the mold was filled with hot wax (C). For hollow parts, the wax was swirled inside the mold and the excess poured out (D). The remaining wax shell was filled with a mixture of plaster and sand, forming a core, and the wax with its core was then removed from the mold (E). The wax parts were joined and finished, and fine iron wires were inserted to secure the core (F). Channels were added to the wax model to allow the molten bronze to be poured in and gases to escape (G). This assembly was then encased in a plaster mixture (H). The plaster mold was heated and dried. The wax was melted out, leaving a void in the shape of the model, and the plaster core suspended inside by the iron wires (I). Molten bronze was poured in, surrounding the core and filling every part of the mold (J). The channels and core pins were removed from the cast and the surface was cleaned, chased, and polished (K).
Hercules, model created by 1496, cast possibly by 1496, bronze with gilding and silvering, The Frick Collection, New York, Gift of Miss Helen Clay Frick
Hercules and Antaeus
bronze with silvering
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
A technique using high-energy X-rays to produce an image of the internal features of an object, such as a bronze statuette. Thin or hollow areas through which the X-rays pass easily appear darker, while thick or solid areas, which partially or completely block the X-rays, appear lighter or white.
X-radiograph of Hercules and Antaeus, 1519, bronze, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Kunstkammer
model created and cast c. 1490–1496
bronze with gilding and silvering
Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, Frankfurt am Main
model created by 1496
cast possibly by 1496
bronze with gilding and silvering
The Frick Collection, New York, Gift of Miss Helen Clay Frick