The Forze d'Ercole was a form of competition and entertainment, performed during the period of carnival and other civic festivities, in which two Venetian factions, the Castellani (inhabitants of the districts of the Sestiere di Castello, San Marco and Dorsoduro) and the Nicolotti (inhabitants of Dorsoduro, near the Church of San Nicolo dei Mendicoli), tried to outdo one another in public displays of strength and skill. The Castellani wore red caps, as shown here, while the Nicolotti wore black. Forze d'Ercole, literally strength of Hercules, or human wall/pyramid, celebrated Venetian dexterity and martial prowess in the storming of the walls at Aquileia. Other carnival games included Macchina dei Fuochi (Machine of flames) and Ballo della Moresca (Dance of the Moor). For more information see Robert C. Davis' The War of the Fists: Popular Culture and Public Violence in Late Renaissance Venice, published in 1994.
Balthasar Nebot was of Spanish origin, but is recorded as having married in London in circa 1729-30. He specialised initially in topographical scenes of London, but by the 1760s was painting views of Yorkshire, including a series of pictures of the Park at Studley Royal, and Fountains Abbey.
We are grateful to Paul Taylor, The Warburg Institute, for his assistance in identifying the subject of the painting.