‘Monstrorum dominatori’: emblematic and allegorical representations of the Herculean task accomplished by José I, King of Portugal (1714-1777)
Popular in the ancient world and throughout the Middle Ages, the Herculean legend was interpreted, in the early modern period, from the standpoint of social, political and religious processes. This model was often exploited by European rulers, who identified themselves with Hercules’ performance, using his figure as a political emblem. Moreover, as mythology developed into a metaphorical language, Renaissance and Baroque art employed the heroic image as a convenient symbol in allegorical programmes, representing virtue, superhuman strength and, particularly, eloquence. According to this perspective, Hercules’ myth became an excellent propagandistic icon displayed by modern courts. Taking Portugal into account, it becomes obvious that the historiographic record often connected Hercules to the ancient genealogy of the Iberian people, using the mythographic tradition in order to magnify the Portuguese past and improve the archetype of Lusitania. The present study aims therefore to clarify this association and shed a new light on its special meaning in the late eighteenth century, when the heroic image repeatedly inspired iconographic pieces in honour of José I and his minister Pombal. Through the analysis of the linguistic and visual elements observed in the selected allegorical and emblematic representations, conclusions will be drawn about the ideological point of view pursued by the symbolic compositions, designed to illustrate the Herculean task accomplished by the King responsible for rebuilding Lisbon after the earthquake in 1755.
The Exemplary Hercules – chapter 5