This model of Reclining Hercules can almost certainly be ascribed to the same hand as a terracotta pair of Mars and Venus in the Quentin Collection (Leithe-Jasper and Wengraf, loc. cit.) currently on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (accession no. L.2017.40.7). The extremely sophisticated and expressive facial features, with deeply set eyes and a pinched aquiline nose, furrowed brow, pointed ears and extensively tooled lines of the hair are characteristics of both these and the present figure, and must have been made within a close time frame of each other. The present figure also shares the same interest in the mannerist inventions of Michelangelo, in particular the highly developed musculature. Further evidence in favour of this connection is the seemingly comparable method of creation, and the colour of the surface which has been treated to simulate bronze. Technical studies of the Quentin Mars and Venus reveal that after they had been fired in a kiln, they were covered with metal foil to create a dark, reddish-brown patina usually associated with bronzes, and it is possible that this is also the case with the Reclining Hercules.
The figure of Reclining Hercules is strongly influenced by Michelangelo’s Dusk in the New Sacristy of San Lorenzo, Florence. Commissioned by Giulio de Medici, later Pope Clement VII, as a mausoleum for members of the Medici family, the Medici Chapel in the New Sacristy featured four reclining figures representing Night and Day and Dawn and Dusk. These were carved by Michelangelo between 1524 and 1534, although Michelangelo’s departure from Rome in 1534 meant that they were not installed until 1545 by Niccolo Tribolo. The present figure follows exactly the composition of Dusk, albeit the sculptor has transformed the figure from a representation of dusk into Hercules; the head has been straightened, is alert and has the discernible features of the mythical god, whilst a lion-skin has been draped across and underneath his body, reappearing next to his club on the rocky base.
The Quentin Mars and Venus were first attributed to the great Florentine sculptor of the 16th century Giovanni Bandini in the catalogue of the exhibition of the collection held at the Frick Collection, New York in 2004-5. It was suggested that the statues might correlate to ‘e statue di Marte e Vulcano’ that Bandini was paid 70 scudi for in November 1585 by Francesco Maria II della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, and that the Mars and Venus ‘exemplify Bandini’s response to the taste favoured at the court of Urbino’ and therefore was stylistically distinct from his previous Florentine output. As was noted, the Mars and Venus, and by implication the Reclining Hercules, bear striking resemblance to Bandini’s bronze Meleager Hunting Boar in Madrid, his portrait busts of Duke Francesco Maria I of Urbino, and that the pose of Mars was closely parallel to Bandini’s later marble figure of the same Duke.
A thermoluminescence analysis carried out by Oxford Authentication (sample no. N198x18) states that this was last fired between 300 and 550 years ago.