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Statue of Heracles as a Boy

Roman art

Heracles as a boy, at rest. The figure is standing, putting his weight on his slightly moved back right leg. His left arm, wrapped in a lion skin (leontè), is resting on a trunk that serves as lateral support. He holds his right arm behind his back. His head and shoulders are draped with the leontè, which is knotted over his chest. His face is tipped to the right. The iconography of the figure, the pose of which cites the famous Farnese Hercules, identifies the subject as a Herakliskos. This Greek term is generally used to describe Hercules as a young boy possessed of prodigious powers, like the strength to free himself from a snake’s grasp, to cite an episode from the myth reported in, among other sources, Theocritus (the Herakliskos), who tells of the hero’s life from birth to adolescence.

Object details

II secolo d.C.
Parian marble
height cm 99

Collection of Giovan Battista Della Porta, acquired by Giovan Battista Borghese from Giovanni Paolo Della Porta, 1609. Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, no. 80. Purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1828 Francesco Massimiliano Laboureur. Reconstructed from multiple fragments. The right leg was repaired with fill.
  • 1996-1997 Liana Persichelli


In the seventeenth century, this sculpture, which entered the Borghese collection in 1609, coming from the Della Porta collection (1610, Inventario dell’eredità, AB, n. 37, tomo 16, Atti di famiglia no. 616, no. 55; ASV, AB 1007, no. 270, p. 6. De Lachenal 1982, p. 96), was displayed in the Villa Pinciana on one of the short sides of the entrance hall, where it remained until 1762 (I Borghese e l’antico, p. 157). Iacomo Manilli and Domenico Montelatici both reported this as the location of a ‘Heracles as a boy resting on his club’, standing on top of a porphyry column (Manilli 1650, p. 56; Montelatici 1700, p. 195). It was then moved to the portico, where it was seen by Ennio Quirino Visconti, who had been hired by Napoleon to draw up an estimate for the Borghese marbles in view of their acquisition (Visconti 1796, p. 7).

The Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese of 1833 reports that it was in Room II, where the small Heracles is on display now and where a heroic cycle featuring the demigod was set up in 1815, drawing on the iconographic range of the Borghese collection’s sculptures of the figure.

In this work, Heracles is standing, with his right leg moved back and his left moved forward. His right arm is folded and held behind his back. His face is slightly tipped downward. The soft forms of his oval face are echoed in the rest of his body. His head is covered by that of the animal, the skin of which falls over his shoulders, its front legs knotted over his chest. Part of the leontè is wrapped around his left arm, which is resting on a trunk that serves as lateral support.

Iconographically, the work, rendered in a naturalistic style, is of the hero at rest type and cites, albeit in smaller size, the famous Farnese Hercules. This variant draws in particular on the Pozzuoli-Antinori type, which combines the Seleucia-Borghese and Side-Caserta types and is known through copies from the imperial period (Moreno 1982, pp. 484–485). The statue is in any case a composite of various fragments, some of which not ancient, and was heavily restored in the modern period.

Rather than an isolated case of adaptation of the iconographic type to the body of a child, there are actually numerous other Roman exemplars of this type, all based on a late Hellenistic original.

There are many copies of this type from the imperial age, especially the variant in which the figure is resting on a club, which was very popular for sculptures of children with idealised portraits (Moreno 1982, pp. 484–485). It seems to have been inspired by the myth in which the hero killed a lion on Mount Cithaeron when he was a boy.

In Apollodorus’s account (Bibliotheca II.4.10), young Hercules covers his head and shoulders with the skin of the animal he has killed. Both this attribute and the iconography allow us to identify this statue as a Herakliskos. However, some scholars have interpreted the work differently. In 1939, Domenico Mustilli argued that it depicts Eros in the guise of Heracles (Mustilli 1939, p. 72), in keeping with a type that was very popular in Hellenistic art and poetry. A few of the epigrams in the Greek Anthology cite episodes in which Eros stripped Heracles of his weapons and lion skin. It might be possible to trace the literary archetype of a sculpture type in these poems, a type doubtless derived from a Hellenistic original, probably carved by an artist in the circle of Boethos (Moreno 1975; Moreno, Viacava 2003, p. 184).

The Borghese sculpture can be fruitfully compared to a work in the Museum of Tarragona (A. García y Bellido, Esculturas romanas de España y Portugal, Madrid 1949, p. 90, pl. 65), a statue from Ostia (NSc 1915, p. 256; JRS 1915, pl. X) and a replica in the Museo dei Conservatori (Mustilli 1939, p. 72, pl. XLVII, 189).

Clara di Fazio

  • I. Manilli, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana, Roma 1650, p. 89.
  • D. Montelatici, Villa Borghese fuori di Porta Pinciana con l’ornamenti che si osservano nel di lei Palazzo, Roma 1700, p. 260.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1840, p. 14, n. 23.
  • L. Lamberti, E.Q. Visconti, Sculture del palazzo della Villa Borghese detta Pinciana, II, Roma 1796, n. 11, p. 7.
  • A. Nibby, Roma nell’anno 1838, Roma 1841, p. 917.
  • Indicazione delle opere antiche di scultura esistenti nel primo piano della Villa Borghese, Roma 1854 (1873), p. 17, n. 26.
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p.27.
  • G. Giusti, La Galerie Borghèse et la Ville Humbert Premier à Rome, Roma 1904, p.24.
  • D. Mustilli, Il Museo Mussolini, Roma 1939.
  • P. Della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1954, p. 11.
  • R. Calza, Catalogo del Gabinetto fotografico Nazionale, Galleria Borghese, Collezione degli oggetti antichi, Roma 1957, p. 12, n. 96.
  • P. Moreno, Museo e Galleria Borghese, La collezione archeologica, Roma 1980, p. 15
  • P. Moreno, S. Staccioli, Le collezioni della Galleria Borghese, Milano 1981, p. 102.
  • P. Moreno, Il Farnese ritrovato ed altri tipi di Eracle in riposo, in “MEFRA” 94, 1982, pp. 379-526, in part. pp. 63, 96.
  • L. De Lachenal, La collezione di sculture antiche della famiglia borghese e il Palazzo in Campo Marzio, in “Xenia” 4, 1982, pp. 49-117, in part. pp. 63, 96.
  • 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, pp. 339-371; in part. p. 361.
  • K. Kalveram, Die Antikensammlung des Kardinals Scipione Borghese, “Römische Studien der Bibliotheca Hertziana”, 11, Worm am Rehin 1995, p. 190, n. 61.
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 101, n. 28.
  • P. Moreno, A. Viacava, I marmi antichi della Galleria Borghese. La collezione archeologica di Camillo e Francesco Borghese, Roma 2003, p. 184, n. 165.
  • I Borghese e l’antico, catalogo della mostra, (Roma, Galleria Borghese, 2011-2012), a cura di A. Coliva, Milano 2011, p. 157.
  • Scheda di catalogo 12/00147846, P. Moreno 1976; aggiornamento G. Ciccarello 2021