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Battle between Hercules and the Amazons
Cambiaso, Luca
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Cambiaso, Luca

Moneglia, Liguria, 1527 - El Escorial, Madrid, 1585

See author's file

Battle between Hercules and the Amazons

1544 - 1550. Pencil, Grey-brown ink on brown paper.
Not on display

The encounter between Hercules and the Amazons, the ninth of his Labors, arose from his assignment to seize the girdle of Queen Hippolyte of the Amazons. Admete, the daughter of Eurystheus, had expressed a desire to possess it, and Hercules therefore set off on a mission to satisfy her desire. The girdle was the ensign of the Queen´s power and she had received it as a present from Ares. The Amazons were a race of warrior women, who had established their own kingdom in Asia Minor and were particularly skilled in horsemanship and fighting with bows and arrows. After arriving in their country, Hercules was at first well received by Hippolyte, who promised him the girdle. Their friendship did not however withstand the meddling of Juno, who roused the Amazons against him. After Hippolyte was killed in the ensuing contest, Hercules removed her girdle and carried it off with him. In the drawing, Hercules is shown having slain two of the Amazons, while two others, mounted on horseback, attack him with a sword and spear respectively; Hippolyte is perhaps the one in the center whom Hercules is about to smite with his club. The river-god in the right foreground is presumably the River Thermodon, which flows through the Caucasus, where the kingdom of the Amazons is believed to have been located.

This drawing is connected with the composition of the fresco of the Battle between Hercules and the Amazons, painted in the center of the ceiling of the salotto in the Palazzo della Prefettura, formerly the property of Antonio Doria, and then after 1624 of the Spinola family, Genoa (Suida Manning and Suida, 1958, fig. 2; Magnani, 1995, pp. 24-25, figs. 19-20). The frescoes in the salotto and those in another room of the same palace were painted by the young Luca Cambiaso together with his father Giovanni Cambiaso in c. 1544-50, on the commission of Antonio Doria, admiral to Pope Clement VII (Magnani, 1995, p. 22). The main difference between the two works is in the position of Hercules, who in the fresco is shown pinning down the head of Hippolyte´s horse with his left hand, as he is about to dispatch his opponent, who has fallen to the ground, with his club. Another difference is that space on the left of the fresco is filled with more Amazons and their mounts, instead of showing an open landscape, as seen in the drawing.

The "exasperated gigantism" (Magnani) seen in the compositions of the Palazzo Prefettura frescoes is largely explained by the overwhelming influence of Michelangelo´s Last Judgement. In the related drawings, these Michelangelesque forms are conveyed by the sweeping, mellifluous contours so characteristic of the drawings of Perino del Vaga (1501-1547), who spent an important period of his later career in Genoa, also much of the time on commissions ordered by the Doria family. The legacy of Perino´s draftsmanship is especially strong in the Prado drawing, not only in the suggestion of the musculature in the body of Hercules, but also in the majestically expressive heads of the horses.

In spite of the commonly held view that Giovanni Cambiaso was the chief executer of the fresco of the Battle between Hercules and the Amazons, the present drawing may be attributed to his son Luca with some certainty on the grounds of its correspondence in style with that of other drawings widely accepted as by the young master. These include a drawing of a Cavalry Battle in the Staatliche Graphische Sarmallung, Munich, which is clearly identical in handling to the Prado drawing (inv. no. 2776; Magnani, p. 30, fig. 27). The Munich drawing is a study for a group of figures in the foreground of one of the lunettes in a cycle illustrating Scenes from the Trojan War in the Salone di Apollo, a second room of the Palazzo della Prefettura (Text drawn from Turner, N.: From Michelangelo to Annibale Carracci. A century of Italian drawings from the Prado, Art Services International-Museo Nacional del Prado, 2008, pp. 104-105).

Technical data

Inventory number
Cambiaso, Luca
Battle between Hercules and the Amazons
1544 - 1550
Pencil; Grey-brown ink
Brown paper
Height: 425 mm; Width: 560 mm
Bequest of Pedro Fernández Durán y Bernaldo de Quirós, 1931

Bibliography +

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de dibujos. Dibujos italianos del siglo XVI (por Nicholas Turner, con la colaboración de José Manuel Matilla), V, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2004, pp. 104, 226.

Turner, Nicholas, From Michelangelo to Annibale Carracci. A century of Italian drawings from the Prado, Art Services International, Chicago, 2008, pp. 104.

Other inventories +

Inv. Legado Pedro Fernández Durán, 1931. Núm. 1606.

Exhibitions +

De Miguel Ángel a Annibale Carracci. Un siglo de Dibujos Italianos en el Museo del Prado
25.10.2008 - 26.07.2009

Un siglo de dibujos italianos en el Museo del Prado. De Miguel Ángel a Annibale Carracci
23.11.2004 - 13.02.2005

Update date: 04-11-2021 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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