Hercules and the Hydra

Antonio Susini (Florence 1558–1624 Florence) and
Gianfrancesco Susini (Florence 1585–1653 Florence)
Hercules and the Hydra
After a model by Giambologna of before 1582, cast ca. 1614–24
15 3/8 in. (39 cm)

In the Renaissance, Hercules’s exemplary feats — the Twelve Labors — symbolized princely virtue. This composition was modeled by Giambologna for a series of silver statuettes (now lost) for the state offices of the Medici grand dukes in Florence.

Hercules grasps the hydra’s tail and twists around to take aim at its snapping heads. The battle’s spiraling tension will explode with the downward smash of Hercules’s club. The composition’s taut contours and tiny details, like the veins on Hercules’s hands, suggest that the bronze was cast by Giambologna’s principal assistant, Antonio Susini. The matte punching on the hydra’s heads, probably executed by Antonio’s nephew, Gianfrancesco, creates the illusion of delicate scales.