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The Death of Hercules
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

The Death of Hercules

1634. Oil on canvas.
Room 009A

This episode, which illustrates Hercules’s death, was narrated in great detail by Baltasar de Victoria, who tells how the hero killed Nessus the centaur for having attempted to rape Hercules’s bride, Deianira. After the wedding, when it came time to cross the Evinos River that runs through Aetolia, it could not be forded as the water was quite deep. Nessus the Centaur happed to be there and offered to carry Deianira across, [...] On the other bank, he [Hercules] heard voices, and Deianira’s screams as Nessus attempted to rape her. Seeking to defend her and to allow her to escape the Centaur, Hercules shot him with an arrow stained with the poison blood of the hydra. Zurbarán suggests this sequence of events in the lush background, where we see a figure of Nessus taken from an engraving by Hans Sebald Beham, fleeing with arms aloft and mortally wounded by the arrow that has just pierced his back. Before dying, Nessus gives Deianira a bloodstained shirt with the false promise that, if Hercules wears it, he will find all other women abhorrent. Later, stricken with jealousy by the presence of Iole, the beautiful daughter of the king of Oechalia, Deianira gives her husband the garment. He put it on, and as the venom was so active and efficient, it entered his flesh, reaching his bones in such a way that he was burning alive. He then made a bonfire from huge trees that he pulled out of the ground, and laying upon it the Nemean lion’s pelt that had defended him in his battles, with his club for a pillow, he gave his bow and arrows to Philoctetes, saying that it was impossible to win Troy without them. He set the fire and was consumed. The fire destroyed his human part, but by order of Jupiter, with the consent of all the other gods, he ascended to heaven and became one of them. This episode has been assigned a dynastic and glorifying meaning in which fire brings a ritual element to the apotheosis of the Spanish king’s mythical forbear. Serrera justified Zurbarán’s representation of Hercules suffering as a form of Christian symbolism. Moreover, the image of a deified hero would distance this work from the series’ overall viewpoint, calling for a clearly differentiated compositional treatment that may have exceeded the artist’s expressive capacities. Specialists have suggested a variety of models for this figure of Hercules. Soria proposed Pietro Torrigiano’s sculpture of the Penitent Saint Jerome (Seville, Museo de Bellas Artes), while Guinard suggested a print by French engraver Gabriel Salomon, dated 1528, which appears to be Zurbarán’s most direct model, as it includes Hercules’s strained expression, the logs on the pyre, which are barely visible behind the hero in the painting, and the bow and club in the foreground, which are also mentioned in Vitoria’s text. The artist must have closely studied this subject, and the care with which he depicted it is appreciable. The white clothing recall’s Zurbarán’s meticulous renderings of religious habits, and the head has details that are surprising, given the canvas’s intended location three meters above the ground: for example, the very fine brushstrokes with which the painter lights the eye, nose and teeth. The same could be said of the numerous tiny brushstrokes that represent the flames on Hercules’s body, which contrast with the sketchy rendering of innumerable parts of many other canvases from this series.

Ruiz Gómez, Leticia, En El Palacio del Rey Planeta, Úbeda de los Cobos, A. (ed), Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2005, p.165


Technical data

Inventory number
Zurbarán, Francisco de
The Death of Hercules
Height: 136 cm; Width: 167 cm
Serie Trabajos de Hércules, Salón de Reinos, Palacio del Buen Retiro
Royal Collection (Buen Retiro Palace, 1701, no. 261; Buen Retiro Palace, 1794, no. 532)

Bibliography +

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

Inventario. Real Palacio del Buen Retiro., Madrid, 1794, pp. 16005(532).

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.58.

Pérez Sánchez, A. E., Torpeza y humildad de Zurbarán, Goya: Revista de Arte, 64/65, 1955, pp. 269.

Nordenfalk, C., Stora Spanska Mastare, Natonalmusei, Estocolmo, 1959, pp. nº119.

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

Carrascal Muñoz, Jose Maria, Francisco de Zurbaran, Giner, Madrid, 1973, pp. 111.

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. nº145.

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

López Torrijos, Rosa, La mitología en la pintura española del siglo XVII, Editorial de la Universidad Complutense, Madrid, 1982, pp. 366.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 790.

López Torrijos, Rosa, La mitología en la pintura española del Siglo de Oro, Cátedra, Madrid, 1985, pp. 143/ lám.31.

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.

Browm, J., Zurbaran, The Metropolitan Museum of Art., Nueva York, 1987, pp. 164,165.

Fernandez Miranda y Lozana, Fernando, Inventarios Reales Carlos III 1789-1790, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 1988, pp. 297.

Guinard, Paul., Zurbarán et les peintres espagnols de la vie monastique /, Les Editions du Temps, París, 1988, pp. 277.

Magariños, A., Las Raices de Todas las Cosas : Exposicion con Motivo del Di, Ministerio de Obras Publicas, Madrid, 1989, pp. 111.

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

Karge, H., Vision Oder Wirklichkeit. Die Spanische Malerei Der Neuzeit, Klinkhardt & Biermann, Munich, 1991, pp. 114.

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

Anes, Gonzalo, Las colecciones reales y la fundación del Museo del Prado (procedencia/provenance), Amigos del Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1996, pp. 205,206.

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. 165.

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. 290.

Portús Pérez, Javier, Francisco de Zurbarán 'La morte di Ercole', en: Zurbarán (1598-1664), Fondazione Ferrara Arte - Centre dex Beaux Arts de Bruxelles, Ferrara, 2013, pp. 180-181 n.30.

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 L.30].

Portús Pérez, Javier, Francisco de Zurbarán. La mort d' Hercule, En: Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), Bozar Books - Fonds Mercator, Bruselas, 2014, pp. 112-113 n.15.

Georgievska-Shine, Aneta Silver, Larry, Rubens, Velázquez, and the King of Spain, Ashgate, Surrey, 2014, pp. 113 fg.4.16.

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

Finaldi, G., 'Zurbarán 'le Caravagge espagnol' et la peinture italienne' En:, Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664), Bozar Books - Fonds Mercator, Bruselas, 2014, pp. 42-53 [47].

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].

Checa, Fernando, El arte de las naciones. El Barroco como arte global, El arte de las naciones. El Barroco como arte global, Consejo Estatal para la Cultura y las Artes de Puebla, 2016, pp. 149 n.74.

Brown, Jonathan, Francisco de Zurbarán, Marry N. Abrams, Nueva York, pp. 102/ lám.22.

Other inventories +

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos II, Buen Retiro, 1701-1703. Núm. [261].
[261] Ottra [pintura] del mismo tamaño [siete cuartas de largo y vara y media de alto] y calidad [] quando Hercules se abraso con la camisa enbenenada Cin la sangre del Zentauro neso ttasada en Ueintte y Çinco doblones ... 1500

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 1131.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 1250.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 1250.

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 302.
Zurbarán. / 302. Hércules atormentado por el fuego de la túnica del centauro Neso. / Alto 4 pies, 10 pulg, 6 lin; ancho 6 pies.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 302.

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Buen Retiro, 1794. Núm. 532.
Otra [pintura], igual a los anteriores [Escuela de Lanfranco ... de 7 quartas de largo y vara y media de alto] de quando Hercules se abrasò con la camisa envenenada con la Sangre del Centauro neso...1000

Exhibitions +

El Arte de las Naciones. El Barroco como arte global
18.10.2016 - 20.02.2017

Francisco de Zurbarán
29.01.2014 - 25.05.2014

Francisco de Zurbarán
15.09.2013 - 06.01.2014

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

Exposición sobre el Medio Ambiente
06.06.1989 - 30.06.1989

Francisco Zurbarán
03.05.1988 - 31.07.1988

Francisco Zurbarán
14.01.1988 - 11.04.1988

Location +

Room 009A (On Display)

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

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