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Giovanni Battista Bertani, (recto) Hercules Victorious over the Hydra; (verso) Study of Hercules, roman soldier’s head, ornaments, ca. 1558, Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund

Giovanni Battista Bertani

(recto) Hercules Victorious over the Hydra; (verso) Study of Hercules, roman soldier’s head, ornaments

Giovanni Battista Bertani
Italian, 1516-1576
ca. 1558
(recto) Hercules Victorious over the Hydra; (verso) Study of Hercules, roman soldier’s head, ornaments
Pen and ink with traces of red chalk on paper
45.7 x 30.5 cm (18 x 12 inches)
Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund 65.078

An architect and writer, Giovanni Battista Bertani also drew and painted for the noble Gonzaga family of Mantua. This sheet was a preliminary sketch for the frontispiece of an architectural treatise Bertani dedicated to his patron, Cardinal Ercole (Hercules) Gonzaga (1505 —1563). The legendary Hercules’s heavily muscled torso represents both his bodily strength and his strength of virtue, a metaphor flattering to Cardinal Gonzaga. Rather than rendering Hercules in action, Bertani depicted him as a motionless antique sculpture to reinforce his timeless heroism. Bertani used the sheet to practice many elements of the composition. At right, he sketched a preparatory study for Hercules’s right leg. Above, he drew a winged female figure writing on an oval palette, a motif that appears in the final engraving made after the design by Giorgio Ghisi. Bertani’s technique of reinforced contour lines and delicate, curved hatching reflects the influence of his predecessor in Mantua, the artist Giulio Romano (ca. 1499 —1546).


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