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Hercules and Cerberus
Zurbarán, Francisco de
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Zurbarán, Francisco de

Fuente de Cantos, Badajoz (Spain), 1598 - Madrid (Spain), 1664

Zurbarán, Francisco de See author's file

Hercules and Cerberus

1634. Oil on canvas.
Not on display

Hercules is depicted here fighting with his club against Cerberus, the three-headed dog guarding the entrance to Hades, which lunges at him with its three ferocious mouths. According to the classical Greek myth, the last of the 12 labours that Hercules was commanded to complete was to bring Cerberus forth from the underworld. The rope with which he is pulling Cerberus indicates he is on the verge of gaining control over the beast. This canvas was one of a series of 12 paintings commissioned in 1634 by Philip IV from Francisco de Zurbarán to decorate the Hall of Realms (Salón de Reinos) in the Buen Retiro Palace. Two were large history paintings (including The Defense of Cádiz against the English 1634 (P656)), while each of the remaining ten depicted one of Hercules´s labours. These ten canvases were to be hung at a certain height, which explains the scale and perspective of this painting. So as to make the hero´s powerful physique and the drama of his undertakings more evident, Zurbarán chose to place Hercules in the foreground of each painting, a decision that undoubtedly must have produced a curious and powerful visual effect in the Hall. Along with Zurbarán´s series, the Hall of Realms, where the throne was situated, was decorated with the coats of arms of all the kingdoms under Spanish control; equestrian portraits of kings and queens, including Philip´s parents and his heir; and 12 paintings depicting recent battles that had concluded favourably for Spain. The presence of the pagan hero -in multiple iterations- is perfectly justified if we recall that Hercules was considered the mythical founder of the Spanish monarchy. Indeed, the motto Plus ultra (Further beyond) that appears on the Spanish coat of arms comes precisely from this character´s story -the famous motto Non plus ultra (No further beyond) applied to the Pillars of Hercules. The figure of Hercules not only completed the genealogical discourse implicit in the equestrian portraits by Diego Velázquez for the Hall, but he also represented the virtues that should govern the prince´s actions. In this regard, it is important to stress that, according to political theory of the time, the office of king not only brought with it a series of privileges, but also implied specific responsibilities toward his subjects. For this reason, many of the decorative schema for royal palaces drew on allegorical sources, alluding through such iconography to the virtues that legitimated the king´s exercise of power. Frequently, such allusions were made with the figure of the mythological hero par excellence: Hercules, who through his labours exemplified cunning, prudence, loyalty, abnegation and a sense of duty. The various labours of Hercules were fairly well known in Spain, where they had been disseminated not only in translations of classical texts, but also through compilations of mythological tales, works of literary creation, theatrical performances, festivals and celebrations and even sermons. In fact, one of the first works of literature of the early modern period in Spain is Los doce trabajos de Hércules (The Twelve Labours of Hercules) by the Marquis of Villena. Such precedents guaranteed the intelligibility of Zurbarán´s paintings, in accordance with the narrative clarity that predominated in the rest of the Hall of Realms.

Ruiz Gómez, Leticia, En El Palacio del Rey Planeta, Úbeda de los Cobos, A. (ed), Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2005, p.164


Technical data

Inventory number
Zurbarán, Francisco de
Hercules and Cerberus
Height: 132 cm; Width: 151 cm
Serie Trabajos de Hércules, Salón de Reinos, Palacio del Buen Retiro
Royal Collection (Buen Retiro Palace, Madrid, 1701, no. 260; Buen Retiro Palace, 1794, no. 531).

Bibliography +

Ponz, Antonio, Viage de España. Vol. I, VI, Joachin Ibarra, Madrid, 1776, pp. 130.

Inventario. Real Palacio del Buen Retiro., [s.n], Madrid, 1794, pp. 16004(531).

Catálogo oficial ilustrado de la exposición de las obras de, J. Lacoste, Madrid, 1905.

Tormo y Monzó, Elías, Velázquez y el Salón de Reinos del Palacio del Buen Retiro, Imprenta San Francisco de Sales, Madrid, 1912, pp. 68.

Soria, Martin S., The Painting of Zurbaran, Phaidon, Londres, 1955, pp. 156/ lám.70.

Caturla, M. L, Cartas de pago de los doce cuadros de batallas para el Salón de Reinos del Buen Retiro, Archivo español de arte, 32, 1960, pp. 333-355.

Lafuente Ferrari, Enrique, Velázquez y lo velazqueño: catálogo de la exposición homena a Diego de Silva Velázquez en el III centenario de su muerte, 1660-1960, Ministerio de Educación Nacional, Madrid, 1960, pp. 101.

Salas, Xavier de, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972.

Inventarios reales: testamentaria del Rey Carlos II : 1701-1, Museo del PradoPatronato Nacional de Museos, Madrid, 1975, pp. 298.

La obra pictorica completa de Zurbarán, Noguer, Barcelona, 1976, pp. 97.

Gudiol, J.; Gállego, J., Zurbarán: 1598-1664, Ediciones Polígrafa, Barcelona, 1976, pp. 84/lám.110.

Brown, Jonathan1939-, Un palacio para un rey: el Buen Retiro y la corte de Felipe, Alianza EditorialRevista Occidente, 1981, pp. 162-170.

López Torrijos, Rosa, La mitología en la pintura española del siglo XVII, I, Editorial de la Universidad Complutense, Madrid, 1982, pp. 369.

López Torrijos, Rosa, La mitología en la pintura española del Siglo de Oro, Cátedra, Madrid, 1985, pp. 139-146.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 789.

Barghahn, Barbara Von, Philip IV and the Golden House of the Buen Retiro in the Tradition of Caesar, Garland PublishingInc., Nueva York, 1986, pp. 231-233.

Iglesias, Maria del Carmen, Carlos III y la ilustración: 1788-1988, Ministerio de Cultura, 1988, pp. 35-44.

Fernandez Miranda y Lozana, Fernando, Inventarios Reales Carlos III 1789-1790, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 1988, pp. nº531.

Guinard, Paul., Zurbarán et les peintres espagnols de la vie monastique /, Les Editions du Temps, París, 1988, pp. 46,47.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990.

Orso, Steven, Velázquez, los Borrachos and Painting at the Court of Philip, University Press, Cambridge, 1993, pp. 107/ lám.53.

Caturla, Maria Luisa, Francisco de Zurbarán, Wildenstein Institute, París, 1994, pp. 114.

Anes, Gonzalo, Las colecciones reales y la fundación del Museo del Prado, Amigos del Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1996, pp. 205,206.

The splendour of Spain (1598/1648). From Cervantes to Velázquez, Waanders Publishing House, Amsterdam, 1998, pp. 38.

Arte y saber: la cultura en tiempos de Felipe III y Felipe I, Ministerio de Educación y Cultura, Madrid, 1999, pp. 277.

Marín Medina, J, Francisco de Zurbarán y su obrador (1598-1664). Obras en España y en el Virreynato del Perú, Caja Segovia, Segovia, 2001, pp. 33.

Elliot J.H., Historia y mito en el Salón de Reinos. En Historias inmortales, Barcelona, 2003, pp. 211-228.

Brown, Jonathan, Un palacio para el rey: el Buen Retiro y la corte de Felipe de Felipe IV, Taurus, Madrid, 2003.

Ruiz Gómez, Leticia, En El Palacio del Rey Planeta, Úbeda de los Cobos, A. (ed), Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2005, pp. 164.

Omaggio a Capodimonte, da Caravaggio a Picasso, Electa, Nápoles, 2007.

Simal, Mercedes, El palacio de Buen Retiro y sus colecciones durante la Guerra de la Independencia. Antecedentes y consecuencias, Jornadas de Arte (14ª. 2008. Madrid) Arte en tiempos de guerra, 2009, pp. 445-455.

Delenda, Odile, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1598 - 1664. Catálogo razonado y crítico., Fundación Arte Hispánico, Madrid, 2009, pp. 288.

Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from The Prado, Queensland Art Gallery, 2012, pp. 112-113 nº17.

Cano, Ignacio, 'Zurbarán (1598-1664)' En:, Zurbarán (1598-1664), Fondazione Ferrara Arte - Centre dex Beaux Arts de Bruxelles, Ferrara, 2013, pp. 16-35 [29].

Finaldi, Gabriele, 'Zurbarán, il 'Caravaggio spagnolo' e la pittura italiana' En:, Zurbarán (1598-1664), Fondazione Ferrara Arte - Centre dex Beaux Arts de Bruxelles, Ferrara, 2013, pp. 48-59 [53].

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Other inventories +

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos II, Buen Retiro, 1701-1703. Núm. [260].
[260] Ottra [pintura] del mismo tamaño [siete cuartas de largo y vara y media de alto] marco [dorado] y auttor [] quando redujo Hercules al Canzerbero ttassada en Veinte y Cinco Doblones ... 1500

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 1128.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 1247.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 1247.

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 257.
Zurbaran. / 257. Hércules luchando con el Cancervero para sacar a Alcestes de los infiernos. / Alto 4 pies, 9 pulg; ancho 5 pies, 5 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 257.

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Buen Retiro, 1794. Núm. 531.
Otra [pintura], igual à las anteriores [Escuela de Lanfranco ... de 7 quartas de largo y vara y media de alto] quando Hercules redujo al Cancerbero...1000

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10.03.1999 - 30.07.1999

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Update date: 06-09-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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