Discovered in 1556 in the Palazzo Farnese, Rome, the colossal 3rd century AD Roman marble of the Farnese Hercules was restored by Carlo Albacini in 1787 and then delivered from his studio to the old porcelain factory at Capodimonte, Naples. It was subsequently moved to the Museo degli Studi in 1792, which later became the Museo Nazionale where the marble now resides. The attribution of the present bust to the Roman sculptor and restorer of antiquities, Albacini, is principally based on stylistic factors but also on the basis that he, unlike any other 18th century sculptor, had an intimate knowledge of the antique prototype upon which this bust is based.
Albacini was one of the most prominent 18th century Roman sculptors supplying wealthy collectors with either highly restored antiquities, as he did for the King of Naples and Charles Townley, and independent works of art for Catherine the Great and Henry Blundell among others. Relatively little is known about his yearly years but his tutorship under Bartolomeo Cavaceppi seems to have defined his career as a restorer and sculptor after he left his master's employ in the early 1770s. Arguably the most significant commission Albacini received was in 1786 when the King Of Naples ordered the restoration of all the Farnese ancient marbles prior to their removal from Rome to Naples. His exposure to this collection and its highlight, the 3 meter tall marble Hercules, would be sufficient cause for him to sculpt a bust such as the present example.
As with a number of other independent works known to be by Albacini this bust of the Farnese Hercules almost perfectly follows the antique prototype, however, some artistic license has been applied to the treatment of the hair which allows for some stylistic comparison with, for example, his Minerva, Cupid and Psyche and the Amazon all in Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid, and to the busts of Caracalla and Hadrian attributed to Albacini and offered at Sotheby's London, 8 December 2009, lots 87 and 88. In each instance one can clearly discern a similar treatment to the hair which is composed of many irregular short, broad and tightly packed ringlets terminating in a further curl. A further stylistic trait can also be seen in the eyes of the Farnese Hercules when compared to those of another over-lifesize bust of Lucius Verus in the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool. In each instance the eyes are slightly oversized in comparison to the face and composed of a large deeply carved iris and squat, u-shaped, pupil.
Albacini's connection to this model is also attested to by the fact that he listed a plaster cast of the bust of the Farnese Hercules in his former master's Death and Sales inventory of 1799 (Howard, loc. cit.). It is probably also the same bust that he then subsequently sold, along with 254 other casts to the Royal Institution of Edinburgh and that now reside at the National Gallery of Scotland. In isolation, this point is not conclusive evidence of an attribution for the present bust to Albacini. However, the fact that he restored the antique prototype, that stylistic traits are shared between it and other documented works, as well as the fact that he handled a plaster cast of the Hercules head do provide credence to the present attribution.