Hercules the Superhero of the Greco-Roman World
“Hercules the Archer” by Antoine Bourdelle depicts Herakles bending his bow to shoot at the Stymphalian birds. This task, according to the myths of Hercules, was one of the Six Labour of Hercules.
In Greek mythology, the birds were monstrous and used their sharp-pointed feathers as arrows, to kill men and beasts, and then devour them. These horrible birds were 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 monumental sculpture, and the first version was cast in 1910. The second version was developed around 1923.
The second version 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 labors of Heracles. Finally, a banner along the base of the sculpture and the monogram completed the work. Many versions of this statue can be found across the world.
The Labors of Hercules
Hercules is famous for his strength and his deeds which took him to the far reaches of the Greco-Roman world and became known as the “Twelve Labours” of Hercules. The Labours included:
- Slay the Nemean Lion.
- Slay the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra.
- Capture the Golden Hind of Artemis.
- Capture the Erymanthian Boar.
- Clean the Augean stables in a single day.
- Slay the Stymphalian Birds.
- Capture the Cretan Bull.
- Steal the Mares of Diomedes.
- Obtain the girdle of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons.
- Obtain the cattle of the monster Geryon.
- Steal the apples of the Hesperides.
- Capture and bring back Cerberus.
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 favorite teacher, and many future prominent artists attended his classes and thus his influence on sculpture was considerable.
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
- 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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- 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 emphasize 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?
“All works of nature created by God in heaven and on earth, are works of sculpture.”
– Benvenuto Cellini
Photo Credit: Antoine Bourdelle [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons