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Statue of a Child as Hercules Fighting

Roman art


This sculpture was mentioned in the second enclosure of the garden of Villa Borghese in 1700. Restored in 1828 by Massimiliano Laboureur, in 1833 it was placed in Room 2, which was also known as The Room of Hercules.

It depicts Hercules as a child, fighting with his signature club brandished with his raised right arm and wearing the leontè, the hide of the Nemean lion killed by the hero, wrapped diagonally across his chest. The figure is standing with its legs wide apart, the right slightly bent forward.

This work, datable to the mid second century CE, was probably designed to decorate a child’s burial, according to the widespread custom of heroizing a deceased infant.


Object details

Inventory
LXXXIV
Location
Date
metà II secolo d.C.
Classification
Medium
Luni marble
Dimensions
altezza cm 107
Provenance

Borghese Collection, mentioned for the first time in 1700 by Montelatici in the second enclosure, in the woods to the south of the Piazza, in front of the Palazzo (p. 43). In 1833 it is mentioned inside the Palazzina in Room 2 by the Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese (C., p. 46, no. 81). Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • c. 1828 - Restorations in marble and stucco by Massimiliano Laboureur: reattached the lower part of the right leg; in the left leg, the section from the ankle to below the knee and the part of the support in the shape of a tree trunk; a chip in the lion's skin; the left arm; part of the right hand with the club.
  • 1966 - Tito Minguzzi
  • 1996-97 - Liana Persichelli

Commentary

This sculpture was mentioned by Montelatici in 1700 in the second enclosure of the garden of the Villa, in the woods to the south of the Piazza in front of the Palazzo: ‘Hercules as a child, brandishing a club in the act of delivering a blow’ (p. 43). In 1828, it appeared in the Quarta Nota submitted by Minister Giuseppe Gozzani to Prince Camillo Borghese listed along with another two, collectively described as ‘Three little Hercules of the same size’, among the works entrusted to Massimiliano Laboureur for restoration (Moreno, Sforzini 1987, p. 361). In 1833, it was cited in the so-called Room of Hercules: ‘Statue of Hercules as a child clad in a lion’s skin’ (Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, C., p. 46, no. 81); this location was confirmed by Nibby in 1841 (pp. 915–916, no. 7).

The child is standing, his right leg bent and a little forward, the left to the side. The left arm is raised and extended to the left, the head turned in the same direction; the right arm is bent, the hand clasping a small club. The figure is naked, except for the leontè, the skin of the Nemean lion killed by the hero, wrapped diagonally around his chest where we can make out the animal’s muzzle. Draped over the left shoulder, the skin crosses the healthy body fore and aft. The hair on the head is arranged in long, straight, compact locks, parted at the summit of the forehead, to which they confer a triangular shape. The ears are not covered by the compact mass of hair surrounding them. The features of the oval face are fleshy, the arches of the eyebrows merging into the bridge of the nose, the small lips parted and the chin protruding. The eyeballs are smooth, the lids heavy.

This work draws upon the familiar iconography of Hercules as a child in the act of fighting and brandishing a club. As postulated by Calza, it is quite likely a funerary piece (1957, p. 12, no. 97). The same motif was employed to decorate the tombs of children, where the deceased was heroized by identification with the figure of Hercules. When examining the most common variant, in which the child is asleep, Collignon observes that the motif represents a funerary allegory, standing, on the one hand, for eternal slumber, and on the other for the hope of a happy life after death, much like the hero rendered divine by Zeus at the end of his life (Collignon 1911, pp. 342–345).

Based on stylistic observations, this sculpture seems datable to the mid second century CE.     

Giulia Ciccarello




Bibliography
  • D. Montelatici, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana con l’ornamenti che si osservano nel di lei Palazzo, Roma 1700, p. 43.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano del Palazzo della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 13, n. 7.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, pp. 915-916, n. 7.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano del Palazzo della Villa Borghese, Roma 1854, p. 15, n. 7.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 27.
  • G. Giusti, La Galleria Borghese e la Villa di Umberto Primo a Roma, Roma 1904, p. 23.
  • M. Collignon, Les statues funéraires dans l'art grec, Paris 1911, pp. 342-345.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, (3° Edizione) Roma 1954, p. 10.
  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p. 12, n. 97.
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Museo e Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p. 13.
  • P. Moreno, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1981, p. 101, fig. a p. 90.
  • P. Moreno, C. Sforzini, I ministri del principe Camillo: cronaca della collezione Borghese di antichità dal 1807 al 1832, in “Scienze dell’Antichità”, 1, 1987, p. 361.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 87, n. 8.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, p. 169, n. 141.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/01008381, P. Moreno 1979; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2020.