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Hercules defeats King Geryon
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 defeats King Geryon

1634. Oil on canvas.
Not on display

This painting depicts the moment after Hercules has killed King Geryon, identified by the crown on his head. The monarch had come to defend his herd of oxen and cows after the god Eurystheus had ordered Hercules to steal them.

This work is part of a series of ten paintings that Francisco de Zurbarán was commissioned to paint in 1634 as decoration for the Hall of Realms in the Buen Retiro Palace. Constructed in the 1630s on the outskirts of Madrid, the palace was a large suburban villa built for the leisure of Philip IV and his court. The Hall of Realms played a significant ceremonial and political role within this complex. The throne was located there, and leading official events were held there, along with plays and other literary performances. To highlight its representative function, the hall was decorated with allusions to the Spanish monarchy, including coats of arms of the King of Spain´s realms, twelve battle scenes that had taken place during the reign of Philip IV, and five equestrian portraits with likenesses of the monarch, his wife, parents, and the crown prince Baltasar Carlos (1629-1646). The series dedicated to the Labors of Hercules was included because that mythological hero was regarded as the founder of the Spanish monarchy, and in fact Non plus ultra (Nothing farther beyond), the famous slogan on the Spanish coat of arms, has its origin in the Hercules myths. The images of Hercules completed the genealogical discourse of the kings of Spain proposed by the equestrian portraits, while also publicly expounding the virtues required of a prince. In that respect, we should emphasize that the political theory of this period associated the monarch´s regal status not only with a long series of privileges, but also with concrete responsibilities to his subjects. Therefore, most iconographic discourse of an allegorical nature related to the Spanish monarch included allusions to the virtues that legitimated him for the exercise of power. These references were often embodied by the mythological hero par excellence -Hercules- whose labors exemplified shrewdness, prudence, faithfulness, a sense of duty, and selflessness, among other qualities. The stories of Hercules´s labors were quite well known in Spain, thanks not only to translations of the classical authors, but also to compilations of myths, literary works, plays, celebrations, and even sermons. Indeed, one of the first literary works of Spain´s modern era is the Marquis of Villena´s Los doce trabajos de Hércules (Twelve Labors of Hercules). This context guaranteed the intelligibility of Zurbaran´s paintings, which thus matched the narrative clarity that typified the rest of the paintings in the Hall of Realms. This series was important to Zurbarán´s career for various reasons. Though born in Extremadura, he had been living in Seville since at least 1626, working primarily for various convents. He knew Velázquez while still a student, and his commission to work on the decorations for the Hall of Realms was very likely due to the latter´s recommendation. Zurbarán´s call to Madrid can thus be understood in terms of both his friendship with Velázquez and the high quality of his painting at that time. It may also have resulted from the fact that he had already executed various series of paintings in Seville, including those at the San Buenaventura College, the Trinidad Calzada, and the Merced Calzada. This prior experience guaranteed a working method efficient enough to ensure that the Labors of Hercules cycle would be completed in the relatively short time frame allotted to him.

What distinguishes this series from Zurbarán’s earlier and later cycles is its subject matter. This is the only mythological group he ever realized, as his oeuvre is characterized mainly by religious works, along with some still lifes and a few portraits. In his approach to mythological subjects, he proved explicit in the narrative sense, and faithful to his sources. The latter were both literary and graphic, including the print series on the labors of Hercules by Cornelis Cort (1533-before 1578) and Hans Sebald Beham (1500-1550) from the 1540s. Zurbarán also showed great skill at adapting compositions to the circumstances in which they were to be seen. For example, all of the works in the present series were intended to be hung high on the wall, which is reflected in both their scale and perspective. To accentuate Hercules´s powerful physical personality and the dramatic nature of his deeds, Zurbarán decided to present him in the foreground, viewed from below in a manner that emphasizes his monumentality and physical strength. For Zurbarán, the fact that these were mythological scenes was not only new from the narrative perspective, but also had important formal consequences, involving the constant presence of nudity. Indeed, this is probably the most important series of male nudes in Spanish Golden Age painting. Yet in approaching the subject of the nude, Zurbarán did not start from scratch, as two masterpieces from the beginning of his career contain nudes -his splendid Crucifixion (1627; Art Institute of Chicago) and The Apostle Saint Peter Appearing to Saint Peter Nolasco (1629; Museo Nacional del Prado). These works comprise the starting point for understanding the Hercules series. In all cases, Zurbarán describes the human body with a naturalist technique that uses light and shadows to model the anatomy? As a result, he articulates the different limbs in a highly contrasting manner that brings out the musculature. This approach is very well suited to rendering the powerful and heroic physique of Hercules, whose nude male form becomes a metaphor for royal authority and power, befitting 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.160


Technical data

Inventory number
Zurbarán, Francisco de
Hercules defeats King Geryon
Height: 136 cm; Width: 167 cm
Serie Trabajos de Hércules, Salón de Reinos, Palacio del Buen Retiro
Royal Collection (Buen Retiro Palace, Madrid, 1701, no. 262; Buen Retiro Palace, 1794, no. 533)

Bibliography +

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

Inventario. Real Palacio del Buen Retiro., Madrid, 1794, pp. 16006(533).

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

Soria, Martin S., The Painting of Zurbaran, Phaidon, Londres, 1955, pp. 156/ lám.56.

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. nº262.

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.106.

López Torrijos, Rosa, La mitología en la pintura española del siglo XVII, Editorial de la Universidad Complutense, Madrid, 1982, pp. 361-363,369.

Calvo Castellón, Antonio, Los fondos arquitectónicos y el paisaje en la pintura barroca andaluza, Diputación Provincial, Departamento de Historia de Arte, Granada, 1982, pp. 227.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 788.

López Torrijos, Rosa, La mitología en la pintura española del Siglo de Oro, Cátedra, Madrid, 1985, pp. 141,142/ lám.28.

Barghahn, Barbara Von, Philip IV and the Golden House of the Buen Retiro in the Tradition of Caesar, Garland PublishingInc., Nueva York, 1986, pp. 228,231,233/ lám.902.

Fernandez Miranda y Lozana, Fernando, Inventarios Reales Carlos III 1789-1790, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 1988, pp. 2896(533).

Guinard, Paul., Zurbarán et les peintres espagnols de la vie monastique /, Les Editions du Temps, París, 1988, pp. 276.

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

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

Navarrete Prieto, Benito, Otras fuentes grabadas utilizdas por Francisco Zurbarán, Archivo español de arte y arqueología, 67, 1994, pp. 371/ lám.18.

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, Valladolid, 1999, pp. 277.

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, pp. 162,166,167,170/ lám.106.

Ruiz Gómez, Leticia, En El Palacio del Rey Planeta, Úbeda de los Cobos, A. (ed), Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2005, pp. 160.

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, 2009, pp. 284.

Delenda, O. Ros, A, La Visión de San Juan Bautista y el paisaje en la obra de Zurbarán, ARS Magazine. Revista de Arte y Coleccionismo, 16, 2012, pp. 96-108 [106-108].

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].

Cano, Ignacio, 'Zurbarán (1598-1664)' En:, Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), Bozar Books - Fonds Mercator, Bruselas, 2014, pp. 10-29 [20].

Delenda, Odile, 'Vida y Obra de Francisco de Zurbarán 1598-1664' En:, Zurbarán : una nueva mirada, Fundación Colección Thyssen Bornemisza, Madrid, 2015, pp. 15-29 [22].

Portús Pérez, Javier, Francisco de Zurbarán. Hercules and the Hydra, En: Splendor, Myth, and Vision: Nudes from the Prado, Clark Art Institute; Museo Nacional del Prado, 2016, pp. 146--151 n.20.

Other inventories +

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos II, Buen Retiro, 1701-1703. Núm. [262].
[262] Ottra [pintura] del mismo tamaño [siete cuartas de largo y vara y media de alto] y Calidad [] quando Hercules matto a Jerion ttasada en Veintte y cinco doblones ... 1500

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 1123.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 1242.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 1242.

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 309.
Zurbaran. / 309. Los geriones vencidos por Hércules. / alto 4 pies, 10 pulg, 6 lin; ancho 6 pies.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 309.

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Buen Retiro, 1794. Núm. 533.
Otra [pintura], igual a los anteriores [Escuela de Lanfranco ... de 7 quartas de alrgo y vara y media de alto] de quando Hercules mato á Jerrion...1000

Exhibitions +

Splendor, Myth and Vision: Nudes from the Prado
Williamstown MA
12.06.2016 - 10.10.2016

El rescate de la Antigüedad Clásica en Andalucía
24.11.2008 - 28.02.2009

El palacio del Rey Planeta. Felipe IV y el Buen Retiro
06.07.2005 - 30.10.2005

La cultura española de Cervantes a Velazquez, 1598-1648
10.03.1999 - 30.07.1999

La cultura española de Cervantes a Velazquez, 1598-1648
21.11.1998 - 07.03.1999

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

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