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Title Sir Joshua Reynolds and Classical Art: Notes on his Mythological Paintings, Most Notably The Infant Hercules for Empress Catherine II
Author email
About author Giovanna Perini Folesani — Full Professor. University of Urbino “Carlo Bo”, Palazzo Albani, Via Bramante, 17, 61029 Urbino, Italy
In the section Western European Art of the 17th–19th Centuries. Classical Tradition’s Destiny: from Model to Interpretation DOI10.18688/aa155-7-73
Year 2015 Volume 5 Pages 672681
Type of article RAR Index UDK 7.035(48)2 Index BBK 85.14

This essay explores and tries to identify and discuss all the visual sources tapped on by Reynolds to paint his Infant Hercules for Empress Catherine II, at the Hermitage in St Petersburg, as well as for The Continence of Scipio for Grigori Alexandrovich Potemkin, which was shipped together with the former and is nowadays exhibited in the same room at the Hermitage. Unlike the histories of their commissions, the deconstruction of their visual sources is almost entirely original. To implement his idea of presenting young Russia in the image of a mighty baby-hero from Classical mythology, Reynolds was looking for inspiration, and could find depictions of the infant Hercules strangling serpents in both modern and antique paintings and prints, as well as in coins and sculptures. His invention for the baby protagonist is based on the reworking of an antique model seen in 1752, the ‘Infant Hercules’, since 1589 on show in the Tribuna of the Uffizi. The popularity of this antique statue through the ages is proven by a number of Renaissance bronze replicas, as well as by its steady, albeit clumsy reproductions in Greek and Roman imperial coins, such as Caracalla’s. Though less blatant than in his earlier works, Reynolds’s visual quotations are to be found among earlier modern sources he could draw on, like the works by Annibale Carracci, Alessandro Algardi, Ercole Ferrata, Pieter van der Werff,++ etc. Special attention is drawn to Thomas Rowlandson’s political satire of which Reynolds must have been also aware.

Reference Giovanna Perini Folesani. Sir Joshua Reynolds and Classical Art: Notes on his Mythological Paintings, Most Notably The Infant Hercules for Empress Catherine II. Actual Problems of Theory and History of Art: Collection of articles. Vol. 5. Eds: Svetlana V. Maltseva, Ekaterina Yu. Stanyukovich-Denisova, Anna V. Zakharova. St. Petersburg, NP-Print Publ., 2015, pp. 672–681. ISSN 2312-2129.
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