• Greece
  • 4th – 3rd century BCE
  • Bronze
  • height 20 cm

This small statue shows Hercules with a lion-head skin draped from his head and the forepaws of the lion tied across his chest. The end of the lion skin covers his left arm, and his right hand holds a club. This pose is the classical representation of Hercules as he appears in Greek myths. The realistic workmanship that has rendered the soft texture of the lion’s fur, the balanced musculature without excess, the copper inlays that form the nipples, the inlaid glass eyes, and the subtle details of the hair and finger tips, however, gives this small statue its unique quality.
The royal family of Macedonia claimed descent from the heroic Hercules and its coins were stamped with his profile, representing the king. Here, where the forepaws of the lion skin are
knotted across the chest of the statue, there is evidence of astounding attention to detail and demonstrated powers of observation in the way the right paw is reversed when knotted. It is difficult to imagine that such attention, without stylization or emulation, would have been directed at anyone but an individual possessing great authority and wealth. The detailed and superb modeling provides a figure barely twenty centimeters tall with the impact of a life-size image.The head, however, is rather small—a little over one-seventh of the overall height. Conversely, the four extremities are huge, with hands large enough to cover the whole face. This figure, as described by Pliny, has the “extreme delicacy of execution even in the smallest details” that can be found in the works of Lysippus, sculptor to Alexander the Great.
The superiority of Greek art is the result of an outstanding realism and authenticity that had developed by 500 BCE. Just as traders and mercenary soldiers did, Greek craftsmen had traveled back and forth between the Mediterranean and the Orient since ancient times, competing on points of universal visual expression rather than adhering to fixed patterns based on any particular philosophy. These developments were certainly promoted in the period of the Achaemenid Empire. Representations that simply copied their subjects were criticized for being mere imitations (of the surface) that did not represent the true nature of their subjects. What the artist creates through his perceptions of the subject and expressions, unbound by existing conventions, contains truths that go beyond a simple copy of the surface. This statuette, for example, is not the bearded man in his prime depicted in many Greek sculptures but the young Hercules brimming with ambition. The statue also bears a close resemblance to the image of the young king Alexander.
The achievements of Alexander, who laid waste to the Achaemenid Empire in less than six years and was crowned king of Persia, were more than sufficient for that king to be treated as
an heroic figure and even deified. He caused the cultures of East and West to collide and merge at great speed and on a large scale, breathing life into new forms of creation in Asia. Above all, with the introduction of the image of paradise after death (Elysium) and the representation of idols, the artistic field expanded to expressions of the sublime realms.