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ALBRECHT DÜRER (1471-1528)
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ALBRECHT DÜRER (1471-1528)

Hercules conquering Cacus (Hercules conquering the Molionide Twins)

ALBRECHT DÜRER (1471-1528)
Hercules conquering Cacus (Hercules conquering the Molionide Twins)
woodcut, circa 1496, a good but slightly later Meder IIa impression, watermark Coat of Arms of Augsburg with A (M. 177), printing slightly unevenly at lower right, trimmed to the borderline, with narrow margins in places, a skilfully repaired tear at centre left, some scattered foxing and staining
Block 390 x 284 mm., Sheet 391 x 286 mm.
Unidentified initials in pencil verso (not in Lugt).
Unidentified initials R(?)N in pencil verso, partially obscured (not in Lugt).
Bartsch 127; Meder, Hollstein 238; Schoch Mende Scherbaum 105
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Lot Essay

Although clearly identified by its printed title as one of the Labours of Hercules, the identification of this particular scene has been subject to much dispute in the past. Today most scholars agree that the woodcut does not depict Hercules' fight with Cacus, but with the Siamese twins Eurytos and Kteatos, who were said to be invincible. The prints shows their mother Molione, accompanied by a fury, invoking a curse to avenge the death of her sons. In the background, near the horizon, strolls the Nemean Lion, another of Hercules' challenges. Dürer may have learned this rather obscure subject through his friend, the humanist Willibald Pirckheimer.

Dürer was familiar with the engraved battle scenes by Pollaiuolo and Mantegna, and his figures, in particular the fury wielding the jawbone, clearly betray this Italian influence. In fact, Hercules can be dated to the period just after the artist's first Italian journey, around 1496.

This is one of the important early woodcuts, predating the great woodcut series of the Apocalypse (lot 26), the Large Passion (lot 30), and the Life of the Virgin. It is the first single-leaf woodcut with a mythological, rather than a biblical theme, although it is not without Christian connotations. Hercules shares the same dimensions and a similar subject with the slightly later woodcut of Samson rending the Lion (M. 107). The two prints may well have been intended as pendants, showing both Hercules and Samson as prefigurations of Christ.

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