Until Giambologna conceived his bronze model of Nessus Abducting Deianira, the convention of representing this subject matter was a rare one in Renaissance art. The story was first described in Book IX of Ovid's Metamorphoses where Ovid recounts Hercules and Deianira journeying back to Tyrins and coming upon a swollen river which they had to cross. Nessus, who was already ferrying other people across it, saw them and offered to carry Deianira to the other bank. When Hercules reached the other side, however, Nessus turned around and abducted Deianira. On seeing this, Hercules drew an arrow that had previously been dipped in the Hydra's blood and shot it at Nessus. Moments before his death, and in an act of pure cunning, Nessus convinced Deianira to collect his blood and use it on Hercules as a love potion. Variations of the story describe Nessus giving her a blood-stained garment, while others describe her collecting the blood in a vile. Either way, it was Deianira who delivered the poisoned blood to Hercules that finally killed him.
In the present model, Giambologna has depicted the precise moment that Nessus abducts Deianira and the instant immediately before his death. It is a scene of great pathos and drama that is accentuated by Nessus' rearing, with drapery trailing to his sides and Deianira thrown across his back. As she struggles, she is depicted in torsion, stabilising herself with one foot on his back, her arms flailing and head thrown back in desperation. At the time of its conception it was seen as a radically complex and dynamic composition.
The arrangement of the bronze group offered here is what Avery and Radcliffe defined as a Type A cast (Giambologna, op. cit., p. 109) - the two other variations being labelled Types B and C. Documentary evidence demonstrates that Giambologna conceived it in 1575 and it is also known that Antonio Susini continued to produce casts of this model - as well as his own variants - after he left Giambologna's workshop in 1600. In an interesting anecdote noted by Baldinucci, Giambologna was said to have held in high esteem Susini's casts of this model, to the point that after the latter left his master's employ, Giambologna sent his chief assistant, Pietro Tacca, to buy a bronze of this model for 200 scudi on account of its splendidly finished surface (Baldinucci, loc. cit.). From then on, Baldinucci noted, many more versions of that bronze were subsequently sold for the same price. Thus taking into account the casting, high quality of finishing and colour of the patina it is very likely that the bronze on offer here is precisely one of the early 17th century casts made in Florence - possibly even in the Susini workshops - in the first hapf of the 17th century.