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ID number:  BIRBI-46.10
Institution:  The Barber Institute of Fine Arts
Artist / Maker:  Gossaert, Jan (called Mabuse) (c.1478?-1532)
Title / Object name:  Hercules and Deianira
Object type:  Painting
Place made:  Possibly Antwerp
Culture:  Early Netherlandish
Date made:  1517
Materials:  Oil on wood (hardwood oak)
Measurements:  36.8 x 26.6cm; 48.1 x 37.2 x 4.5cm
Provenance:  Francis Otway, Esq.; Vandyke sale, Christie's, 3 May 1800 (lot 93) as 'Hercules and Omphale' by Dürer, purchased by Hammond for £5.5s.; W. Benoni White sale, Christie's, 23-24 May 1879 (lot 51), purchased by Lesser for £70.7s.; sold by Sir John Charles Robinson to Sir Francis Cook, Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey, 1879; purchased from Sir Francis Cook and the Trustees of the Cook Collection in 1946 for £2,500.

The classical hero Hercules is shown embracing his wife Deianira. Their seat is decorated with images of his heroic exploits including the defeat of the Nemean lion, shouldering the world for Atlas, attacking the Lernaean Hydra, and his victory over Antaeus. Their erotic encounter, however, is doomed. Deianira sits on the silver cloak given to her by the evil centaur Nessus before he died. According to Ovid's Metamorphoses, Hercules had shot a poisoned arrow at the centaur Nessus in order to rescue Deianira from his grasp. Nessus advised her to give Hercules the cloak if she ever felt the need to ensure his faithfulness. However, when Hercules wears it he will be engulfed in flames and die. Gossaert foreshadows this moment by showing Deianira grasping the tunic in her left hand.

The patron of this work is unknown.

Gossaert visited Italy in 1508-9. On his return he was the first artist in the Netherlands to produce classical subjects with nude figures. His nudes show the anatomical knowledge and broad proportions of Italianate models. But the sense of life is conveyed through his Flemish training in close observation, for example by the sensitive shadows that play over the couple's flesh.

Inscriptions / Translations:  Inscribed u.c.: HERCULES DYANIRA, Dated l.l.: 1517

Notes:  Exhibited: 'Exhibition of Early Netherlandish Pictures', Burlington Fine Arts Club, London, UK, 1892, no. 45; 'Pictures by Masters of the Flemish and British Schools', New Gallery, London, UK, 1899, no. 12; 'Exhibition of Flemish and Belgian Art', Royal Academy, London, UK, 1927, no. 187; 'L'Europe Humaniste', Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium, 1955, no. 37; 'La Siecle de Bruegel', Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, Belgium, 20 September 1963 - 30 November 1963, no. 108; 'The Rival of Nature: Renaissance Painting in its Context', National Gallery, London, UK, 09 June 1975 - September 1975, no. 174; 'Art Before the Iconoclasm: Northern Netherlandish Art 1525-1580', Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 12 September 1985 - 23 November 1985, no. 1; 'Art Treasures of England', Royal Academy, London, UK, 22 July 1998 - 04 October 1998, no. 282; 'Carolus: Charles Quint, 1550-1558', Ghent, Belgium, 06 November 1999 - 30 January 2000, no. 98; 'The Past within the Present', Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham, UK, 2008; 'Man, Myth and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossaert's Renaissance', Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA, 05 October 2010 - 17 January 2011, no. 31; 'Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossaert's Renaissance', National Gallery, London, UK, 23 February 2011 - 30 May 2011, 'The Renaissance Nude', Getty Centre, Los Angeles, 30 October 2018 - 27 January 2019 and touring to The Royal Academy, London, 28 February - 2 June 2019

1 Related People

Gossaert, Jan (called Mabuse)
Early Netherlandish
c. 1478?

2 Related Publications

Early Netherlandish painting, VIII: Gossaert and van Orley
Friedlander, M. J.

Kunst voor de Beeldenstorm

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
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