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© The Frick Collection
Media File
Pier Jacopo Alari Bonacolsi, called Antico  (ca. 1460−1528)
Hercules, possibly by 1496
Bronze, partial gilding and silvering
15 1/8 × 8 3/8 × 4 3/4 in. (38.4 × 21.3 × 12.1 cm)
Gift of Miss Helen Clay Frick, 1970
Accession number: 1970.2.89
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Commentary: While little is known about the patronage for most small bronzes—who, if anyone, commissioned them, their date, or how they were meant to be displayed—Antico's work for his Gonzaga patrons is abundantly documented through inscriptions, letters, and inventories. Three bronze figures of a standing Hercules by Antico are mentioned in such early sources. One appeared in the 1496 inventory of Gianfrancesco Gonzaga, a second was cast for Bishop Ludovico Gonzaga in 1499, and the third was made some twenty years later for Isabella d'Este. Three statuettes of Hercules, closely similar in appearance and considered to be works by Antico or his workshop, have survived: the one in The Frick Collection; a second in the Museo Arqueol-gico, Madrid; and a third in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. Based on stylistic comparison with other Antico bronzes, it has been proposed that the Frick bronze, which is the finest of the versions, is probably the one made in 1499 for Bishop Ludovico.

Antico was able to produce exact replicas of his models through a complex method using piece molds that allowed him to cast hollow bronzes and to preserve his original waxes and molds for repeated use. Figures made from a single wax model could be varied in finish and detail. The most richly embellished of the three surviving figures of Hercules is the Frick version, which has gilded hair and lion skin and silver inlaid eyes that glitter against the dark, smoothly polished bronze. The refinements of the surface finishes—the sparkling eyes, crisp curls, striations of the lion's pelt—are jewel-like in their precision. Antico's bronzes are luxury products, virtuoso achievements of a goldsmith's craftsmanship, rendered doubly appealing to his aristocratic, humanist patrons through their revival of the classical past.

The Frick Hercules lacks the club grasped in the right hand of the other two versions, and all three probably once held in their left hands the golden apples of the Hesperides, which Hercules stole from a tree guarded by a dragon at the western end of the world. Like most of Antico's statuettes, the figure is no doubt derived from an ancient marble but is not precisely dependent on any known example.

Source: Art in The Frick Collection: Paintings, Sculpture, Decorative Arts, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996.

Charles Mannheim. J. Pierpont Morgan. Duveen. Henry Clay Frick, 1916. Gift of Miss Helen C. Frick, 1970.

Source: The Frick Collection: Drawings, Prints & Later Acquisitions. Volume IX. New York: The Frick Collection, 2003.