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L.59. Design for a Large Silver Statue of Hercules with Two Columns

December 1539

The earliest reference to a design of a statue in silver of Hercules that was to be made by Rosso is contained in the record of the deliberations of 30 November 1539 concerned with Charles V’s forthcoming visit to Paris (Archives Nationales, Paris, Registres du Bureau de la Ville de Paris, H 1780, fol. 5, “Voyage en court Croquet pour le faict de l’entrée dud. Empereur,” Guérin, 1883, III, 5-6).  Part of these deliberations is about the nature of the present that the city of Paris was to give to the emperor.  At first a sideboard (“buffet”) decorated with eagles at the ends was suggested, but the king disliked the idea as a gift for Charles V, “mais il convenoit adviser luy faire present de chose destinée pour luy et qui luy dememourast pour memoire.”  The record of this deliberation immediately continues: “Et après avoir esté mys plusieurs actes en avant, auroit led. seigneur Roy advisé faire ung decin ou pourtraict d’un Hercules, couvert de sa peau de lyon bien dorée, led. Hercules tenant en ses deux mains deux coulonnes, comme les plantans par force en terre, et lesquelles coulonnes feussent appliquées à y mectre flambeaulx quant l’on vouldroit; ausquelles coulonnes seroit escript le devis de l’Empereur, qui est : Plus oultre, et en l’escharpe dud. Hercules: Altera alterius robur.  Et pour faire led. pourtraict, auroit ordonné à mond. sr de Boisy faire lettres à Me Rousse, paintre d’icelluy seigneur, estant à Fontainebleaue, pour en faire le decin, selon son desir; et pour faire les mosles pour le gecter, si besoing estoit, auroit nommé ung nommé Chevrier, estant d’Orleans, demourant en la ville de Paris.  Pour accomplir le vouloir duquel seigneur, icelluy Croquet se seroit retiré avec les lettres du Roy faictes par led. de Boisy, aud. Fontainebleau, et icelluy pourtraict faict par led. Me Rousse; lequel il nous auroit apporté pour suyvre et accomplir le voulloir dud. seigneur Roy.”1

That the statue of Hercules as specified here by Francis I was actually made is indicated by a description of it in Lordre tenu & garde a Lentree de treshault & trespuissant prince Charles Empereur tousiours Auguste en la Ville de Paris, capitalle du Royaulme de France, Paris, Gilles Carrozet et Jehan du Pre, 1539 [1540] (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Département des Imprimés, Réserve Lb30, no. 84):

“Le Dimenche quatriesme iour di Janvier Messieurs de la ville luy feirent present dung Hercules dargent de sept pieds de hault, pesant quatre ce[n]s marcs: lequel tenoit deux grosses collomnes serva[n]tes de chandelliers, a lentour desquelles estoit escript la devise dudit prince: Plus oultre.  Icelluy Hercules portoit en escharpe escript: Altera alterius robur.  Cest a dire.  Lune est lappuy de lautre. Et icelluy present il accepta de bon cueur monstrant ioyeulx visiage, et les remercie.”2

The statue is also described in René Macé’s poem of 1540, Voyage de Charles-Quint par la France, Poéme historique (ed. Raynaud, Paris, 1879, 82);

“Sept pieds de long avoit ceste statue
D’argent massif, en escharpe vestue
Saulvaigement d’un cuir a poil doré;
Viaire, bras, tout y est naturé:
Pour borne en mer deux grans coulonnes plante;
L’eau en tressault, boullante et escumante,
Et alentour “PLUS OULTRE” est engravé.
Herculès la façoit quest achevé;
Tous ses labeurs Charles a passé oultre,
Et des enfance a pour son mot: “PLUS OULTRE.”

Another contemporary source (Archives Nationales, Paris, Registres du Bureau de la Ville de Paris, H 1780, fol. 8, “L’entrée de l’Empereur Charles d’Aultriche à Paris,” Guérin, 1883, 10) gives the following account of the gift: “Et le lendemain alla loger au chasteau du Louvre, où mesdits srs de la Ville luy furent presenter ung bel et grand Herculles effigié tout d’argent et vestu d’une peau de lion, lequel estoit de environ six piedz de hault et tenoit deux grosses coulonnes d’argent, lesquelles il plantoit à force dedans terre.  Et portoit en son echappe ung grand escripteau où il y avoit éscript Altera alterius robur.  Et alentour des coulonnes estoit escript: Plus oultre, qui est la devise dud Empereur.  Et avoit à ses piedz sur le devant ung aigle à deux testes.  Lequel Hercules fut mys dedans ung estui de cuyr, sur lequel avoit des aigles à deux testes dorées, et estoit doublé de satin verd.”3

Cellini, in his autobiography (Cellini-Ferrero, 1971, 448-449), mentions the Hercules as one of silver and as of the same size as the silver statue of Zeus that he made for Francis I a short while later.  It is also discussed in his Dell’Oreficeria (Cellini-Ferrero, 1971, 732) as of silver, as showing Hercules with two columns, and as around three and a half braccia high.  (On what Cellini says about the making of the statue itself, see below.)

The only sixteenth century source that attributes the design of the silver Hercules that the city of Paris gave to Charles V on 4 January 1540 is the record of the deliberation of 30 November 1539 that records the king’s command that his idea for such a statue be conveyed to Rosso so that he could make the “pourtraict”’ or “decin” of it, “selon son desir.”  This design was to serve Chevrier in making the molds from which the statue would be cast.  None of the descriptions of or references to the statue itself, including Cellini’s, mentions Rosso.

Apparently it was Michel Felibien in 1725 (V, 353-354) who first published the record of the commission and a description of the statue, from which it could be concluded that the latter was actually designed by Rosso.  By this time, it seems, the statue had already long disappeared.  At the end of the eighteenth century, Philippe Baert reported that the statue had been at the château of the Duke of Boussu (Boussut), Jean de Hennin, two leagues from Mons, in modern Belgium: “Dans la grande galerie de ce château étoit une figure d’Hercules d’argent massif, haute de 6 pieds, faite par Chervier, sculpteur d’Orléans, d’après le modèle de maître Roux, italien.  Les Parisiens offrirent cette statue en présent à l’empereur Charles V, lors de son passage à Paris, en 1540; ce prince la donna ensuite au compte de Boussu” (Baert-Reiffenberg, 1848, 46).4  The source of Baert’s information has not been located but it could have been one of the seventeenth century editions, with added notes, of Lodovico Guicciardini’s Descrittione di tutti i Paesi Bassi (first edition 1567), giving the location of the statue in the Sala d’Apollo (see Hedicke, 1912, 291-292).  But even Guicciardini would never have seen the statue if it was destroyed along with the château in 1554 (Kusenberg, 1931, 105-106, and Dimier, 1914, 116).

In this century the attribution of the design of the lost statue to Rosso has been recognized by Dimier, 1904, 52, n.; Hedicke, 1912, 291-292, who says wrongly that the statue was “haute de douze pieds;” Kusenberg, 1931, 105-106, 203-224, ns. 264 and 265; Pierre Champion, Paris au temps de la Renaissance. Paganisme et Réforme, Paris, 1936, 79; Huon, Fêtes, I, 1956, 23-24; Béguin, 1960, 44; Jacquot, Fêtes, II, 1960, 439; and Denieul-Cormier, 1962, 192 (1969, 135); Terrasse, III, 1970, 53-54; Schneebalg-Perelman, 1982, 125; K. Wilson-Chevalier, in Fontainebleau, 1985, 88; Carroll, 1987, 31; Grodecki, 1988 (1989), 22; and Knecht, 1994, 391-392.  Dimier, 1914, 112-116, inadvertently attributed the design of the statue to Cellini.

Given the information now available, it is clear that Rosso was to be asked shortly after 30 November 1539 to make a design for a silver statue of Hercules that was to be given to Charles V by the city of Paris and that in Paris on 4 January 1540 such a gift was indeed given to the emperor.  There is, however, no sixteenth century source that says that Rosso in fact made a design or that the statue was actually executed from a drawing or drawings by him.  Nevertheless, this is highly likely, given that the king dictated the conception of the statue and commanded that it be sent to Rosso so that he might make a drawing from it that would serve the sculptor.  This conclusion is generally accepted.

No visual evidence of the statue is known.  Francis I specified that the statue would be of Hercules wearing a lion skin that would be gilt.  Hercules was to hold two columns, which he would plant on the ground with force.  These columns were to be made to hold torches, and on the columns was to be inscribed Charles V’s motto: Plus oultre.  On a sash that Hercules wore was to appear: Altera alterius robur.  There is here no indication that this statue was to be made of silver, although there is reference to it being cast.  There is also no indication of its size, although the mention of molds, rather than simply of a mold, seems to imply that a large statue was intended.

All descriptions of the statue itself present the details of Francis I’s conception and indicate as well that the statue was made of silver and that it was about two meters high (six or seven “pieds”).5  One source gives its weight as four hundred “marcs.”  Both the king’s specifications and Macé’s description of the statue itself indicate that Hercules’s lion skin was gilt.6  However, two details of the statue itself are not contained in Francis I’s description.  The king had dictated that the columns were to be planted on the ground but René Macé’s account of the statue states that they were planted in a turbulent, bubbling, and foaming sea.  The other contemporary description of the statue contained in the account of the emperor’s entry states that at the front of the statue at Hercules’s feet there was a double-headed eagle.  As the letter that was actually sent to Rosso specifying the conception of the statue is not known, it cannot be ascertained if these two details are additions by Rosso or had earlier been added to the original invention from which he made his design.  The sculptor, Chevrier, could also have added them, although this seems unlikely inasmuch as the king entrusted Rosso to make its design “selon son desir.”  It should, however, be noted that the detail of the sea makes reference to the columns as the geographical Pillars of Hercules, beyond which Charles V has territory, and that the eagle further identifies Hercules with the emperor.  The action of the sea sounds like Rosso’s invention.7

The statue, made by Pierre du Brimbal, called Chevrier (on whom, see Dimier, 1914, 115), was severely criticized by Cellini in his autobiography because of its poor workmanship, which, he said, caused the king to declare that it was the ugliest work he had ever seen.  In his Dell’Oreficeria, he again criticized it on technical grounds, not because of the finish of its parts,8 but because of the poor manner in which they were joined by silver wire rather than by solder.  It might here be recalled that this large statue had to be made in one month’s time.

On two other representations of Hercules made by Rosso in France probably for the festivities accompanying Charles V’s visit to Fontainebleau immediately before he went to Paris, see L.48, D.78, E.17, and E.160.9  For other “colossi” mentioned by Vasari as made for this occasion, see L.48.

 


1 Also transcribed with some minor alterations in Felibien, 1725, V, 353-354; Archives curieuses de l’histoire de France, ed. L. Cimber and E. Danjou, 1st series, III, 1835, 432-433; and Dimier, 1914, 114.  McAllister Johnson, 1974, 32, n. 19, mentioned “the decisive personal intervention of Francis Ier” as having “the value of precedent.”

2 Transcribed in Guiffrey, Cronique, 1860, 305.  The gift is mentioned in Saulnier, Fêtes, II, 1960, 231.

3 Also transcribed with minor alterations in Felibien, 1725, V, 357, and in Dimier, 1914, 114-115.

4 On Baert, see Bibliographie nationale … de Belgique, Brussels, I, 1866, 634.  The manuscript of his Mémoires was acquired by the Bibliothèque Royale in Brussels in 1812 (Fonde de M. Van Hulthem, cat. nos. 847 and 848).  The “seigneur de Boussu” had traveled with the emperor from Spain (see Gachard, 1846, 43, n. 2).

5 Pope-Hennessy, 1985, 103, 303, n. 11, noting that the two columns served as torches, stated that the statue was life-sized, or just over two meters in height.

6  Gachard, 1846, 50, 326, 658, gives three other references to the silver Hercules.  The first anonymous one states: “Ceulx de la ville de Paris luy offrirent et présentèrent, à sa bienvenue en icelle, ung Hercules d’argent doré, lequel estoit de la haulteur d’un grant homme et robustere.”  The indication here is that the whole statue was gilt but the other evidence that only the lion skin was gilt seems more reliable.  The second is in a letter from Queen Marie in Brussels of 6 January 1540: “… on dict que ceulx de Paris disoyent faire présent en valeur de X mil escuz.”  The third is in a Spanish report of January 1540: “Dieron à su Magestad, de presente, en Paris, un Ercules de plata, que tiena en las manos las dos colunas con el plus ultra amaryllo byen hecho.  Dicen que pesa quynyentos marcos de plata.”  Here the weight of the statue is given as 500 marks.

7 On the distinction between this “Hercule libyque,” referring to the empire, and the “Hercule gallique,” symbolizing France, see Saulnier, Fêtes, II, 1960, 219-233, on Charles V’s entry into Paris, with references to the two Hercules in Macé’s poem (see Macé, ed. Raynaud, 1879, 48, 80-81).  On the two Hercules, see also Jung, 1966, 88-90.  Mention of the statue appears as well in Pardoe, 1901, III, 212, who wrongly states that the statue was presented at the Hôtel de Ville, and in Ghislaine de Boom, Les voyages de Charles Quint, Brussels, 1957, 85.

8 Cellini uses the phrase “pratica di tirare di martello,” referring to beating the metal with a hammer, by which he would seem to mean the chasing of the surfaces of the cast parts.  This would be in accord with the assignment to Chevrier to make molds for casting.  If this is not the case then Cellini means a statue the parts of which were made from sheets of silver that were beaten into shape and not cast.  But this seems unlikely as the statue was very heavy.

9 A bibliography of contemporary sources of Charles V’s visit to Paris is contained in Macé, ed. Raynaud, 1879, XXV-XXIX, nos. 5-12.  It is possible that some of the items listed here that I have not seen contain additional references to the statue of Hercules (see also n. 3).