This small panel, the companion-piece to “Hercules and Antaeus”, refers to three panels representing the Labours of Hercules which Antonio del Pollaiuolo painted for Lorenzo de’ Medici around 1460, lost works we know about only from later versions. Here too is represented a ferocious fight between the hero, his body tensed into an agile, muscular mass and the legendary multi-headed monster. The outlines are very sharply defined, and the movement of nerves and tendons observed down to the last detail. Antonio del Pollaiuolo worked at time when thorough studies of anatomy were being made, and he therefore renders the human body realistically in its moments of greatest emotional excitement.
The dramatic force of the episode is expressed in the hero’s grimace of fatigue and horror, but also his certainty of victory. Behind the proudly barbaric figure blue rivers meander through a broad landscape of green and brown fields, the sky above an enamel blue.
The two small panels by Pollaiuolo, Hercules and Antaeus and Hercules and the Hydra, were lent by the Republic of Italy. The panels had been in the Medici collection at the Uffizi since 1789. They were taken during the German army’s retreat from the villa near Florence where much of the Uffizi collection had been stored during the war. After 18 years they were found in the possession of a German waiter in Pasadena.
Antonio del Pollaiuolo
Antonio del Pollaiolo (January 17, 1429/1433 – February 4, 1498), also known as Antonio di Jacopo Pollaiuolo or Antonio Pollaiolo, was an Italian painter, sculptor, engraver and goldsmith during the Renaissance. He was born in Florence.
His main contribution to Florentine painting lay in his analysis of the human body in movement or under conditions of strain, but he is also important for his pioneering interest in landscape. His students included Sandro Botticelli.
His brother, Piero, was also an artist, and the two frequently worked together. Their work shows both classical influences and an interest in human anatomy; reportedly, the brothers carried out dissections to improve their knowledge of the subject. They took their nickname from the trade of their father, who in fact sold poultry (pollaio meaning “hen coop” in Italian). Antonio’s first studies of goldsmithing and metalworking were under either his father or Andrea del Castagno: the latter probably taught him also in painting.
Tomb of Pope Innocent VIII, Pollaiolo’s second papal tomb
Some of Pollaiolo’s painting exhibits strong brutality, of which the characteristics can be studied in the Saint Sebastian, painted in 1473-1475 for the Pucci Chapel of the SS. Annunziata of Florence. However, in contrast, his female portraits exhibit a calmness and a meticulous attention to detail of fashion, as was the norm in late 15th century portraiture.
He achieved his greatest successes as a sculptor and metal-worker. The exact ascription of his works is doubtful, as his brother Piero did much in collaboration with him.
He only produced one surviving engraving, the Battle of the Nude Men, but both in its size and sophistication this took the Italian print to new levels, and remains one of the most famous prints of the Renaissance.
In 1484 Antonio took up his residence in Rome, where he executed the tomb of Pope Sixtus IV, now in the Museum of St. Peter’s (finished in 1493), a composition in which he again manifested the quality of exaggeration in the anatomical features of the figures. In 1496 he went to Florence in order to put the finishing touches to the work already begun in the sacristy of Santo Spirito.
He died in Rome as a rich man, having just finished his mausoleum of Pope Innocent VIII, also in St. Peter’s, and was buried in the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, where a monument was raised to him near that of his brother.