New Representations of Hercules’ Madness in Modernity: the depiction of Hercules and Lichas
Although Alcmene’s son was a multifaceted character in the ancient world (city founder, model of excellence, example of ruler’s virtue, etc), he was considered fundamentally to be a prototype of the saviour and the striving hero. Thus, many of the sculptures and paintings on pottery referred to his well-known labours but there are a few surviving plastic representations of another interesting facet of this hero: his madness. These representations depict the death of his wife and children. This chapter considers an important change in the perspective taken towards Hercules in painting and sculpture in modernity. Turning away from the labours and from Hercules as the saviour of Deianeira (although that episode still attracts many artists, e.g. Antonio Canova and André-Joseph Allar), the attention of early modern painters and sculptors focused on another event in his life, an event for which there is almost no evidence in ancient literature (the story appears mainly in Sophocles’ Trachiniae and Ovid’s Metamorphoses) and no evidence at all in ancient iconography: the death of Lichas. Antonio Canova’s great masterpiece Hercules and Lichas is probably the best example of this innovation and the chapter concentrates on this sculpture, alongside other relevant representations, to examine the new portrayal of Hercules in his madness and the literary and iconographical sources that inspired it.
The Exemplary Hercules – chapter 12