The bronze group of Hercules Slaying a Centaur offered here is based on Giambologna's monumental marble carved for Ferdinando de' Medici between 1595 and 1600 and today standing in the Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence. Arguably Giambologna's last great work in marble, it was completed when he was 80 and carved, to a great extent, with the help of his chief assistant, Pietro Francavilla.
Unusually, the idea for the marble existed long before Giambologna ever executed the monumental marble. In a letter of 1581 Simone Fortuna wrote to the Duke of Urbino that Giambologna was working on a series of twelve Labours of Hercules for Francesco I. Furthermore, it is known that between 1576-1589 Giambologna had already cast six silver groups from such a series including a Hercules and Centaur, and that they had been placed in the Tribuna of the Uffizi. All these are now lost, but as the survival of bronze models from the same series testifies, Giambologna's inventions lived on.
Giambologna's model of the Hercules and a Centaur exists in two versions; one which is an identical reduced version of the monumental marble, and another which is approximately 40 percent bigger and depicts Hercules more engaged in the battle and looking the centaur in the face. Examples of each can be seen in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (op. cit., nos. 81 and 82 respectively) and have been attributed to Antonio Susini and Ferdinando Tacca respectively. The impressive bronze offered here is virtually identical to the Tacca bronze in terms of composition, scale and quality. It does, however, vary slightly from Tacca's original in the colour of patination, rendering of finer details and in the construction. Here the patination is of a darker tone, it also has a more naturalistically rendered base and a more finely finished surface. It has also been cast with regularity in the thickness of the walls, and the extremities, such as the arms, have been attached to the body with intricate butterfly joints. All these factors point to a northern facture, and probably one in France sometime between the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries where examples of the model were already known to have existed.
The 1684 inventory of the collection of Louis XIV lists fifteen bronzes from the series of the Labours including a Hercules and a Centaur attributed to Gianfrancesco Susini (Bronzes de la Couronne, op. cit., no. 55). That two other versions also exist in the same collection (ibid., nos. 33 and 227) would indicate that the model was extremely popular in France, and it is likely that courtiers employed local artists to produce high quality derivatives of Giambologna's original masterpiece in an attempt to emulate the King's impeccable taste.