Child Heracles strangles Reynolds' snakes

Child Heracles strangles Reynolds' snakes
Child Heracles strangles Reynolds' snakes

This painting was painted in 1788 by the English artist Joshua Reynolds and is currently kept in the Hermitage Museum in the Russian city of Saint Petersburg.

The scene is inspired by a story by the Greek poet Pindar. Mythological legend tells us that Heracles or Hercules is the fruit of love between the almighty Zeus and the simple mortal Alcmene. That is to say, he was a demigod, and his father, in order for him to achieve immortality, one day decided to place the child before Hera, goddess and his true wife, so that he could nurse him and drink the milk of immortality. However, Hera rejected him, an episode that would lead to the mythological origin of the Milky Way. And not content with that, Hera wanted to get rid of the child. To do this she sent two snakes to the same cradle of Heracles, however despite being still a baby, her incredible strength allowed her to strangle the reptiles to death.

Child Hercules strangles Reynolds's serpents

Child Hercules strangles Reynolds' snakes

This theme was chosen by Reynolds as an analogy to capture the immense power of the Russian Empire, since it was a work commissioned by the Tsarina herself Catherine II of Russia, which is why the painting is currently in the aforementioned museum. It is also said that when she gave the work to the Tsarina, she was completely enchanted by the result.In addition to paying the agreed price, high for a work of almost 9 square meters (300 x 297 cm), the Empress gave the painter a diamond-encrusted snuffbox with her portrait on it.

To represent the scene he used many characters, which are actually true portraits of figures from his time. And it is that Reynolds was above all a great portraitist with works such as Lady Worsley, an ability that served him to be appointed court painter to British roy alty.

For example, for the figure of the soothsayer Tiresias, who, according to the mythological story, was able to predict the great future that awaited Hercules, he chose as a model the face of his friend and philosopher Samuel Johnson. While the face of the goddess Hera who watches the whole scene from the heights of the sky is actually an image of a well-known actress in England at the end of the 17th century.

The painting has a very typical aspect of rococo art that Reynolds developed, however there are also many more elements typical of baroque painting. The varied foreshortenings in which he presents us with the numerous figures are due to them, as well as the strong contrasts between the illuminated and shadowed surfaces are very baroque.

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