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“Hercules the Archer” by Antoine Bourdelle

Herakles the Archer - MET - 24.232

“Hercules the Archer” by Antoine Bourdelle depicts Herakles bending his bow to shoot at the Stymphalian birds, a task which according to the myths of Hercules was one of the Six Labour of Hercules. In the Greek mythology, the birds were monstrous and used their sharp-pointed feathers as arrows, to kill men and beasts, and then devour them. The birds infesting the woods surrounding the lake Stymphale, in Arcadia, a region of Greece. According to myth, Heracles shot the birds with feathered arrows tipped with poisonous blood from the slain Hydra.

Bourdelle created several studies to produce a small sculpture, which he considered as completed in 1909. Soon a commission was received for a monumental sculpture, and the first version was cast in 1910. The second version was developed around 1923. It differed from the first version with additions of reliefs on the rock on the right, representing the Nemean Lion and the Lernaean Hydra, which were the first and second labours of Heracles. Finally, a banner along the base of the sculpture and the monogram completed the work. A several versions of this statue can be found across the world.

Antoine Bourdelle was an influential and prolific French sculptor, painter, and teacher. He became one of the pioneers of 20th-century monumental sculpture, and Auguste Rodin became a great admirer of his work, and in 1893 Bourdelle joined Rodin as his assistant. He became a favourite teacher, and many future prominent artists attended his classes and thus his influence on sculpture was considerable.

Reflections

Antoine Bourdelle told his pupils, “Contain, maintain and master are the rules of construction”.  Has he achieved a simplification of lines in this sculpture?
Bourdelle used the nude figure to emphasise power and energy, has he achieved this with sculpture?
This sculpture references early Greek sculpture with the almond-shaped eyes, the nose extending from the forehead and the protruding cheekbones. Do these features make this sculpture seem more ancient or modern?

Hercules the Archer

  • Title:                      Hercules the Archer
  • Artist:                    Antoine Bourdelle
  • Year:                      1909
  • Material:               Gold on bronze
  • Dimensions:         2.50 m × 2.40 m.
  • Museum:              Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

Antoine Bourdelle

  • Name:              Antoine Bourdelle
  • Born:                Émile Antoine Bordelles
  • Born:                1861 – Montauban, Tarn-et-Garonne, France
  • Died:                 1929 – Le Vésinet, near Paris
  • Notable work

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    “I invent nothing, I rediscover.” Auguste Rodin

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    Photo Credit: Antoine Bourdelle [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons