While the subject of Hercules and Antaeus does not form part of the canonical Twelve Labours, Giambologna is known to have created a model of the group that was cast by Giorgio d'Antonio in 1578 as one of six silver Labours for the Tribuna of the Uffizi in Florence (Heikamp, loc. cit.). It is likely that Giambologna was inspired in his creation of this model by the 2nd century AD marble of the same subject that was discovered in Rome and brought to the courtyard of Palazzo Pitti, Florence, in 1560. He varied the composition by reversing the figure of Antaeus and thereby created a highly dynamic multiple-viewpoint composition.
The combination of the successful composition along with the striking subject matter made the group one of Giambologna's most popular models, resulting in a large number of variants in existence today. The present group stands apart from these variants, however, in that it is an exceptionally refined cast: highly polished, expertly plugged, patched and repaired, intricately punched and chased, and with a warm brown patination which all point to a Florentine cast of the late baroque period. These were probably the factors that led to the bronze's original attribution to the Florentine sculptor Ferdinando Tacca. However, the highly distinctive punching to the base, which is sharp and angular, bears no resemblance to the type of working on Tacca's bases, which flow in curvaceous and undulating contours.
Among the other possible candidates for the authorship of this bronze, a number of highly skilled 17th and 18th century Florentine sculptors come to mind: among them, Gianfrancesco Susini, Damiano Cappelli, Massimiliano Soldani-Benzi, Giuseppe Piamontini and Giovanni Battista Foggini. Most can be discounted because they are not known ever to have copied Giambologna's works or because they worked the cold bronze in a very different way. However, one artist does stand out as a very credible candidate: Foggini.
While Foggini is renowned for his inventive, dynamic and highly original compositions he is also known to have directly copied Giambologna's models. This is corroborated by two pieces of documentary evidence. The first is an unpublished source discovered by Dimitrios Zikos that Foggini possessed nine groups by Giambologna, all roughly 40 cm. high and representing the Labours of Hercules, one of which was an 'Ercole che Scoppia Anteo' ('Hercules who crushes Antaeus'; cited in Florence, op. cit. p. 175). Furthermore, Lankheit, in his survey of the Doccia porcelain manufactory cites a payment made in 1746 to Giovanni Battista's son Vincenzo for the sale of a wax model of the same subject by Foggini with its mould ('Ercole e Anteo. Di Gio. Batta. Foggini in cera con forma'; loc. cit.). Lankheit also publishes an image of a rough biscuit porcelain cast of this model (ibid, pl. 136) which shows some minor variations in the placement of Hercules's feet and Antaeus's proper left leg, but includes a bushier massing of the hair on Antaeus's head as well as a fuller beard - both markedly different from Giambologna's original model but directly comparable to the bronze offered here. Evidently the porcelain version is lacking the same integral base found on the bronze but judging from the roughness of the cast it is likely that it was cast from an unfinished working model.
The attribution of the present bronze to Foggini can be further corroborated by its close connection to another bronze group after Giambologna, of Hercules and the Centaur, that is now fully attributed to Foggini and that was formerly in the Barbara Piasecka Johnson collection (Sotheby's, London, 8 July 2009, lot 27). This bronze was published in 2009 as also being after a model by Giambologna that belonged to Foggini and the latter is mentioned in Zikos' thus-far unpublished document. Like the Hercules and Antaeus this group represents a near-faithful replication of Giambologna's original composition with the addition of a highly finished rock-work base. There are strong parallels in the way that each of the bronzes has been worked after casting, with both bases consisting of numerous tightly packed, sharp and angular rows of punching, while the punching to the hair and beards is short and undulating and accentuates certain passages of the locks. The flaws are similarly and intricately pinned, plugged and patched, the surfaces are very highly polished and they share a patination of a warm brown tone with lighter highpoints. Furthermore, the hands and feet are similarly depicted, and the idiosyncratic s-shaped locks of hair on Antaeus' head in the present example are likewise replicated - albeit more simply - on the back of Hercules' head in the group with the Centaur. The fact that both bronzes are also on a similar scale (the ex-Johnson bronze is just over 2 cm. taller) makes their inclusion in this series of models by Foggini even more credible, although this detail may well have been predetermined by the fact that Giambologna's models were also similarly sized.
The re-evaluation of the present bronze's attribution and its credible reattribution to Giovanni Battista Foggini adds to the greater understanding of the Florentine late baroque period and to one of the most gifted artists at its epicenter. Furthermore, as a result of this reattribution a further connection can be established between Giambologna and Foggini whose styles and ingenuity defined the artistic cannons within the court of the Medici in two consecutive centuries.