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Luca Signorelli (c. 1445-1523)

Hercules and Antaeus c.1500

Black chalk | 28.3 x 16.3 cm (whole object) | RCIN 912805

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  • The subject of the drawing is usually identified as Hercules and Antaeus. Having gathered the golden apples from the garden of the Hesperides, Hercules was challenged by the giant Antaeus; but Antaeus derived his strength from the earth, and when Hercules lifted him into the air he weakened and could be crushed to death. The drawing was mounted in George III’s Raphael album, though it was recognised that it was the work of one of Raphael’s contemporaries rather than by Raphael himself. In the late nineteenth century it was identified as one of the finest surviving studies by Luca Signorelli, a generation older than Raphael, who spent most of his career in the hill town of Cortona in southern Tuscany. Flickering diagonal hatching and sharply accented outlines dominate the drawing, over a more subtle blended modelling that, in combination, gives both great solidity to the figures and lively movement to the surfaces. In the absence of any painting by Signorelli of Hercules and Antaeus, it has been suggested that the drawing might have a connection with the figures in the Damned, part of Signorelli’s masterpiece, the fresco cycle of the Last Judgement in the Cappella Nova of Orvieto Cathedral (1499-1504). The recurring motif of the Damned is a struggle between two figures, a devil and a soul. While there is no direct match between the figures in the drawing and any of those in the fresco, such a lack of correlation is a common feature of Signorelli’s preparatory studies, including those more obviously connected with the Last Judgement. The sheet may thus be ‘background research’ for the Orvieto cycle, of a type often found when an artist is confronted by a project unusual in scale or subject (and here both). Extensive compositions of nude figures were not common during the Renaissance, and Signorelli began to explore the demands and opportunities of the Orvieto project through studies derived from more familiar subjects - in this case perhaps Hercules and Antaeus - with no intention of using them unchanged in the final work.

    First listed in a Royal Collection inventory of c.1810 (Inventory A, p. 51, Raffaello d'Urbino e Scuola, 37)

  • Medium and techniques

    Black chalk


    28.3 x 16.3 cm (whole object)


    crossed keys in orb (watermark)