Hercules Killing the Dragon Who Guards the Garden of Hesperides...
4 1/4 in. x 2 3/4 in. (10.8 cm x 6.99 cm)
Medium and Support:
Engraving on paper
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Weil, Jr., in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Weil, Sr.
The Labors of Hercules (the best known of the Greek heroes of classical mythology) have been depicted in works of art since ancient times. In keeping with the sixteenth-century Northern European interest in the classical art and themes of Italy, the German printmaker Heinrich Aldegrever engraved this image of Hercules slaying a dragon. The image depicts the hero in the Garden of the Hesperides, where he had been sent to obtain golden apples given by Mother Earth to the goddess Hera when she wed Zeus. In the background, Aldegrever shows the hero inside the walled garden, successfully plucking the apples from a tree that stands before a round tower.
Depiction of multiple vignettes in a narrative sequence within a single image was a common technique in medieval and Renaissance art. Aldegrever employed it to tell the story of Hercules’ strength and courage on a miniature scale. In the foreground he shows the battle that preceded his successful acquisition of the apples—the awful features of the fearsome beast and the super-human strength of the hero, whose facial expression reveals no emotion as he pummels the dragon. Hercules’ impressive musculature is skillfully revealed in the twisting pose of the nude hero whose powerful torso is framed by his distinctive cape made from the pelt of the Nemean Lion that he killed and skinned on his first Labor. The influence of the great German printmaker Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528) can be seen in the use of the monogram device at the upper left which mimics Dürer’s practice of signing his works using a similar emblem.