Piero della Francesca - Hercules, about 1470

Piero della Francesca (Sansepolcro, about 1415 - 1492, Sansepolcro)

Hercules, about 1470

Tempera on plaster, 151 x 126 cm (59 7/16 x 49 5/8 in.) overall

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Object details

Accession number

P15e17

Provenance

Residence of the della Francesca family, Sansepolcro.
Senator Giovanni Battista Collacchioni, Palazzo Graziani (formerly della Francesca family residence), Sansepolcro, by 1886.
Transferred to the family's country residence, Villa Cattani, near Sansepolcro, by 1892.
Marco Collacchioni, by inheritance, 1895.
Returned to Palazzo Graziani, Sansepolcro, by 1902.
Purchased by Isabella Stewart Gardner from the dealer Elia Volpi, Florence, for 200,000 lire ($40,000) through the painter Joseph Lindon Smith (1863-1950) on 11 December 1906.
Due to the high cost of import duties, this fresco remained in Europe until 1908 in the care of Mrs. Thomas Lincoln Chadbourne (Emily R. Crane, 1871-1964). Its arrival in Boston was delayed further by a customs dispute.
Entered Isabella Stewart Gardner's collection in 1908.

Dimension Notes

Frame: 154.2 x 129.1 cm (60 11/16 x 50 13/16 in.)

Bibliography

August Schmarsow. Melozzo da Forli. Ein Beitrag zur Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Italiens (Berlin, 1886), p. 316.
Felice Pichi. La vita e le opere di Piero della Francesca, monografia di Giovanni Felice Pichi con prefazione del Cav. Uff. Ing. Vincenzo Funghini (Sansepolcro, 1892), p. 108. (as detached by Cesare [Stefano?] Bardini)
Giovanni Margherini Graziani. L'arte di Città di Castello (Città di Castello, 1897), p. 170, pl. 27.
Evelyn Franceschi Marini. "Ercole." Cronache della civilità elleno-latina (1902), pp. 140-41.
Evelyn Franceschi Marini. Piero della Francesca. Monarca della pittura ai suoi dì (Città di Castello, 1912), pp. 129-32.
Morris Carter. Isabella Stewart Gardner and Fenway Court (Boston, 1925; Reprint, Boston, 1972), pp. 213-15, 230.
Roberto Longhi. Piero della Francesca (Rome, 1927), pp. 121, 178. (between 1460 and 1470, as part of a lost cycle of famous men)
Philip Hendy. Catalogue of Exhibited Paintings and Drawings (Boston, 1931), pp. 262-64.
Gilbert Wendel Longstreet and Morris Carter. General Catalogue (Boston, 1935), p. 90, pl. 14.
Stuart Preston. "Hercules" in Alfred M. Frankfurter (ed.). The Gardner Collection (New York, 1946), p. 19, ills. 19-20.
Kenneth Clark. Piero della Francesca (London, 1951), p. 206. (as 1460-66)
Corinna Lindon Smith. Interesting People (Norman, Oklahoma, 1962), pp. 163-65.
“Notes, Records, Comments.” Gardner Museum Calendar of Events 6, no. 2 (9 Sept. 1962), pp. 1-2. (excerpting Corinna Lindon Smith, pp. 163-65)
Benjamin Rowland, The Classical Tradition in Western Art (Cambridge, MA, 1963), pp. 165-67, ill.
Oreste del Buono and Pierluigi de Vecchi. L'opera completa di Piero della Francesca (Milan, 1967), p. 99, cat. 21.
George L. Stout. Treasures from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1969), pp. 110-11, ill.
Eugenio Battisti, Piero della Francesca vol. 2 (Milan, 1971), pp. 67-69. (as post-1465)
Philip Hendy. European and American Paintings in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1974), pp. 181-83, ill. (as perhaps about 1465-1470)
Mario Salmi. La pittura di Piero della Francesca (Novara, 1979), pp. 107-09. (as 1467)
Richard Cocke. "Masaccio and the Spinario, Piero and the Pothos: Observations on the Reception of the Antique in Renaissance Painting." Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte (1980), pp. 29-30, ill.
Rollin van N. Hadley. Museums Discovered: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1981), pp. 32-33, ill. (as about 1465-1470)
Antonio Paolucci. Piero della Francesca (Florence, 1989), p. 218. (as post-1459).
Carlo Bertelli. Piero della Francesca (New Haven, 1992), pp. 192-33, no. 8 (as pre-1459)
Ronald Lightbown. Piero della Francesca (New York, 1992), pp. 267-9, ill. (as early or mid-1470s)
Hilliard Goldfarb. Exploring Treasures in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum III: Imaging the Self in Renaissance Italy. Exh. cat. (Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 1992), pp. 32-34, 45, ill.
Creighton Gilbert. "The Hercules in Piero's House." Artibus et historiae (2002), pp. 107-16.
Stephen Campbell and Alan Chong. Cosmè Tura: Painting and Design in Renaissance Ferrara. Exh. cat. (Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 2002), p. 173.
Alan Chong et al. (eds.) Eye of the Beholder: Masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 2003), pp. 52-53, ill. (as about 1470)
Machtelt Israëls. "Piero della Francesca's Panel Paintings for Borgo San Sepolcro" in Nathaniel Silver (ed.). Piero della Francesca in America: from Sansepolcro to the East Coast. Exh. cat. (New York: The Frick Collection, 2013), pp. 30, 34 (as part of a lost cycle)
Nathaniel Silver. "Piero 'in terra nostra': Image-Making for Borgo San Sepolcro" in Nathaniel Silver (ed.). Piero della Francesca in America: from Sansepolcro to the East Coast. Exh. cat. (New York: The Frick Collection, 2013), p. 22 (as a single, emblematic figure)
Nathaniel Silver. "An Old Master for the New World" in Nathaniel Silver (ed.). Piero della Francesca in America: from Sansepolcro to the East Coast. Exh. cat. (New York: The Frick Collection, 2013), pp. 8, 9, 12, 13
Nathaniel Silver in Nathaniel Silver (ed.). Piero della Francesca in America: from Sansepolcro to the East Coast. Exh. cat. (New York: The Frick Collection, 2013), pp. 122-27, cat. 6 (as late 1460s or early 1470s; as a single, emblematic figure)
Harriet Reed. "Virgin and Child enthroned with four angels by Pierro della Francesca: Colnaghi and Robert Sterling Clark 1911-1930" in Colnaghi. Colnaghi Past, Present, and Future: An Anthology (London, 2016), pp. 36, 280.August Schmarsow. Melozzo da Forli. Ein Beitrag zur Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Italiens (Berlin, 1886), p. 316.
Felice Pichi. La vita e le opere di Piero della Francesca, monografia di Giovanni Felice Pichi con prefazione del Cav. Uff. Ing. Vincenzo Funghini (Sansepolcro, 1892), p. 108. (as detached by Cesare [Stefano?] Bardini)
Giovanni Margherini Graziani. L'arte di Città di Castello (Città di Castello, 1897), p. 170, pl. 27.
Evelyn Franceschi Marini. "Ercole." Cronache della civilità elleno-latina (1902), pp. 140-41.
Evelyn Franceschi Marini. Piero della Francesca. Monarca della pittura ai suoi dì (Città di Castello, 1912), pp. 129-32.
Morris Carter. Isabella Stewart Gardner and Fenway Court (Boston, 1925; Reprint, Boston, 1972), pp. 213-15, 230.
Roberto Longhi. Piero della Francesca (Rome, 1927), pp. 121, 178. (between 1460 and 1470, as part of a lost cycle of famous men)
Philip Hendy. Catalogue of Exhibited Paintings and Drawings (Boston, 1931), pp. 262-64.
Gilbert Wendel Longstreet and Morris Carter. General Catalogue (Boston, 1935), p. 90, pl. 14.
Stuart Preston. "Hercules" in Alfred M. Frankfurter (ed.). The Gardner Collection (New York, 1946), p. 19, ills. 19-20.
Kenneth Clark. Piero della Francesca (London, 1951), p. 206. (as 1460-66)
Corinna Lindon Smith. Interesting People (Norman, Oklahoma, 1962), pp. 163-65.
“Notes, Records, Comments.” Gardner Museum Calendar of Events 6, no. 2 (9 Sept. 1962), pp. 1-2. (excerpting Corinna Lindon Smith, pp. 163-65)
Benjamin Rowland, The Classical Tradition in Western Art (Cambridge, MA, 1963), pp. 165-67, ill.
Oreste del Buono and Pierluigi de Vecchi. L'opera completa di Piero della Francesca (Milan, 1967), p. 99, cat. 21.
George L. Stout. Treasures from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1969), pp. 110-11, ill.
Eugenio Battisti, Piero della Francesca vol. 2 (Milan, 1971), pp. 67-69. (as post-1465)
Philip Hendy. European and American Paintings in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1974), pp. 181-83, ill. (as perhaps about 1465-1470)
Mario Salmi. La pittura di Piero della Francesca (Novara, 1979), pp. 107-09. (as 1467)
Richard Cocke. "Masaccio and the Spinario, Piero and the Pothos: Observations on the Reception of the Antique in Renaissance Painting." Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte (1980), pp. 29-30, ill.
Rollin van N. Hadley. Museums Discovered: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 1981), pp. 32-33, ill. (as about 1465-1470)
Antonio Paolucci. Piero della Francesca (Florence, 1989), p. 218. (as post-1459).
Carlo Bertelli. Piero della Francesca (New Haven, 1992), pp. 192-33, no. 8 (as pre-1459)
Ronald Lightbown. Piero della Francesca (New York, 1992), pp. 267-9, ill. (as early or mid-1470s)
Hilliard Goldfarb. Exploring Treasures in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum III: Imaging the Self in Renaissance Italy. Exh. cat. (Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 1992), pp. 32-34, 45, ill.
Creighton Gilbert. "The Hercules in Piero's House." Artibus et historiae (2002), pp. 107-16.
Stephen Campbell and Alan Chong. Cosmè Tura: Painting and Design in Renaissance Ferrara. Exh. cat. (Boston: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 2002), p. 173.
Alan Chong et al. (eds.) Eye of the Beholder: Masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, 2003), pp. 52-53, ill. (as about 1470)
Machtelt Israëls. "Piero della Francesca's Panel Paintings for Borgo San Sepolcro" in Nathaniel Silver (ed.). Piero della Francesca in America: from Sansepolcro to the East Coast. Exh. cat. (New York: The Frick Collection, 2013), pp. 30, 34 (as part of a lost cycle)
Nathaniel Silver. "Piero 'in terra nostra': Image-Making for Borgo San Sepolcro" in Nathaniel Silver (ed.). Piero della Francesca in America: from Sansepolcro to the East Coast. Exh. cat. (New York: The Frick Collection, 2013), p. 22 (as a single, emblematic figure)
Nathaniel Silver. "An Old Master for the New World" in Nathaniel Silver (ed.). Piero della Francesca in America: from Sansepolcro to the East Coast. Exh. cat. (New York: The Frick Collection, 2013), pp. 8, 9, 12, 13
Nathaniel Silver in Nathaniel Silver (ed.). Piero della Francesca in America: from Sansepolcro to the East Coast. Exh. cat. (New York: The Frick Collection, 2013), pp. 122-27, cat. 6 (as late 1460s or early 1470s; as a single, emblematic figure)
Harriet Reed. "Virgin and Child enthroned with four angels by Pierro della Francesca: Colnaghi and Robert Sterling Clark 1911-1930" in Colnaghi. Colnaghi Past, Present, and Future: An Anthology (London, 2016), pp. 36, 280.
Caroline Elam. Roger Fry and Italian Art (London: Ad Ilissum and The Burlington Magazine, 2019), pp. 223-24, fig. 2.49.


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Commentary

This fresco once adorned Piero della Francesca’s house in Borgo Sansepolcro. The painting was originally positioned in the upper corner of a room, with its right edge bordering a wall, which helps explain the steep perspective of the image. Hercules stands at a threshold. Beyond, we can see a ceiling with wooden beams decorated with foliage. There is no evidence that the room was decorated with other gods or heroes, as might be expected. Further, Piero della Francesco chose to portray Hercules as a youth, rather than as the bearded, muscle-bound figure familiar in ancient sculpture. Certainly the ideal nude was a central theme of the Italian Renaissance. However, it remains a mystery what this image of the young Hercules might signify in the painter’s private dwelling, although the hero was commonly associated with civic virtue and goodness. Perhaps the painting of a classical nude in unusually steep perspective was a compelling artistic challenge for Piero.

Mrs. Gardner’s attempt to acquire the fresco was also Herculean. The fresco had been detached from the wall in the 1860s and in 1903 it was sold to Gardner by the Florentine dealer Elia Volpi, with the assistance of Joseph Lindon Smith. However, the Italian government delayed the work’s export until 1908, and when it arrived in America, it was seized by customs officials for payment of duty and fines. At Fenway Court, it became the centerpiece of a new gallery of early Italian pictures where it was displayed in front of a flame-stitched embroidery.

Source: Alan Chong, "Hercules," in Eye of the Beholder, edited by Alan Chong et al. (Boston: ISGM and Beacon Press, 2003): 53

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