Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Labors of Hercules

Italian (Florentine or Sienese) Painter (second quarter 15th century)
Tempera on wood, embossed and gilt ornament
Overall 18 3/4 x 69 1/2 in. (47.6 x 176.5 cm); each medallion, diameter 15 in. (38.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Edward Fowles, 1971
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 604
Hercules became the greatest hero of ancient Greece by performing twelve seemingly impossible labors. Three are illustrated on this front of a chest (cassone): combating the centaurs, slaying the Nemean lion, and defeating the giant Antaeus, whose strength derived from his contact with the earth. Hercules was a much-admired model of strength and virtue. The small, athletic putti modeled in relief remind us that even a sculptor of the caliber of Donatello did such work. The coats of arms identify the patrons as the Florentine Ginazzi and Boni families.
Frédéric Engel-Gros, château de Ripaille, Thonon, Savoy (until d. 1921; his estate sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, May 30, 1921, no. 26, as school of Pollaiuolo, for Fr 10,200 to Jonas); [Paul Jonas, Paris, from 1921]; [Duveen, New York, by 1949–at least 1960; transferred to Fowles, partner in the firm]; Edward Fowles, New York (by 1963–d. 1971)
Florence. Palazzo Strozzi. "Lorenzo il Magnifico e le arti," May 21–October 31, 1949, no. 3 (in room 4; as by a Florentine painter, first half of the fifteenth century, lent by E. Fowles).

Paul Ganz et al. L'oeuvre d'un amateur d'art: La collection de Monsieur F. Engel-Gros. Geneva, 1925, vol. 1, pp. 113–14; vol. 2, pl. 61b, attributes it to the workshop of Piero Pollaiuolo, and dates it late fifteenth century; compares the three medallions to scenes of Hercules in the Palazzo Venezia, Rome, and the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, attributed to the same painter.

Licia Ragghianti Collobi. Lorenzo il Magnifico e le arti. Exh. cat., Palazzo Strozzi. Florence, 1949, pp. 34–35, no. 3, attributes it to a Florentine painter and dates it to the first half of the fifteenth century; identifies the figures on the far left and right as symbols of Strength and Temperance.

Edward Fowles. Letter to Creighton Gilbert. March 4, 1960, identifies the arms as those of the Ginazzi and Boni families; states that Bernard Berenson considered it close to Domenico Veneziano.

Creighton Gilbert. Letter to Duveen. February 29, 1960, believes it "looks very much like Bartolomeo di Giovanni".

John Pope-Hennessy and Keith Christiansen. "Secular Painting in 15th-Century Tuscany: Birth Trays, Cassone Panels, and Portraits." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 38 (Summer 1980), pp. 12–14, figs. 8–10 (color, overall and details), discuss the significance of Hercules in Florentine culture and note the influence of ancient sarcophagi and coins depicting his exploits; compare it to works by Paolo Uccello and Lorenzo Ghiberti.

Miklós Boskovits. Letter to Keith Christiansen. February 11, 1989, considers it Sienese, attributing it to the Master of Sant'Ansano and comparing it to works assigned to that painter.

Graham Hughes. Renaissance Cassoni, Masterpieces of Early Italian Art: Painted Marriage Chests 1400–1550. Alfriston, England, 1997, p. 232.

The raised gesso decoration surrounding the painted scenes, including the remarkable athletic putti, is original, though the outermost moldings have been partly regilt and retooled. According to Vasari, the young Donatello decorated similar cassone fronts.
The three medallions on this cassone panel show (left to right) Hercules combating the centaurs, slaying the Nemean lion, and strangling the Giant Antaeus. Flanking the central medallion (left to right) are the arms of the Ginazzi and Boni families of Florence, with winged cherubs above and below. The young man and woman depicted to the extreme left and right represent Fortitude and Temperance.
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