Laruelle Abstract Hercules in Flemish Tapestry

Anne-Sophie Laruelle

Hercules in the art of Flemish tapestry (1450-1556)

The exploits of Hercules, one of the most popular literary and artistic themes of the Renaissance, flourished particularly in tapestries, a major artistic genre of this period. Fine tapestries presenting this theme were produced by the best weaving workshops of the former Netherlands. The success of the theme in tapestry invites us to ponder the special meaning given to it by the princes, the privileged recipients of these tapestries. There is no doubt that, more than any other hero, Hercules served as their model as he embodied the virtus heroica, i.e. ‘active virtue’, which encompassed bravery, intrepid acts and erudition.  This chapter will delve deeper in the matter by focusing on the period between the middle of the fifteenth century (when the theme first appears in tapestries) and the 1560s. In addition to the exceptional quantity of preserved tapestries (over a 100), the numerous references to the Herculean theme in ancient inventories and descriptions confirm its importance at the time and reveals the complexity of its iconography.

The Exemplary Hercules – chapter 3