Nessus and Deianira
Nessus and Deianira
Nessus and Deianira

After GIAMBOLOGNA (1529-1608)

Nessus and Deianira

17th century Florence

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The present bronze can be related directly to the style of Giambologna. The subject is the abduction of Deianira, wife of Hercules, by the centaur Nessus.

Documents show that the Florentine master represented the group of Nessus and Deianira as early as 1577; three different versions of this subject are extant. Our bronze statuette derives from the model (defined as type A by C. Avery) known in three signed examples , and in which Deianira sits along the back of Nessus with her arms flung out in desperation while Nessus clasps her with his right arm and with his left hand secures her with a piece of fabric passed around her body. The present bronze differs from Giambologna’s model in the position of Deianira’s right arm, which is stretched upwards and not bent at an angle.

Until the Florentine master 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 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. Giambologna’s radically complex composition, with two intertwined figures full of dynamism and balanced tension, explains its long lasting popularity.

It is known thanks to Baldinucci 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 also 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. From then on, Baldinucci wrote, many more versions of that bronze were subsequently sold for the same price. Taking into account the casting, quality of finishing and colour of the patina, it is likely that the present bronze is one of the 17th century casts made in Florence.
Comparative Literature:
- Giambologna 1529-1698 Sculptor to the Medici, exh. cat. C. Avery and A. Radcliffe eds, pp. 11-113
Height 20.00 cm (7.87 inches)
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