D.78 Dream of Hercules

D.78 Dream of Hercules

Possibly for the decorations for the visit of Charles V to Fontainebleau


Paris, Louvre, RF 14685.

Fig.D.78b bw

Dark red chalk over black chalk, and a black chalk line running along the left side 0.3 from the edge of the sheet, 14.9 x 11.3 (maximum measurements); laid down; wm.?  Inscribed in red ink at the upper right: Ro.  The drawing is very badly damaged; parts of the right side are torn away and the surface is very badly rubbed, especially in the figure of the woman, and spotted there and elsewhere with black marks.

PROVENANCE: Princess de Croy; given to the museum in 1930.


Béguin, 1976, 80, 82, n. 24, Fig. 70, as by Rosso, and for Boyvin’s engraving, and as representing Hercules and Dejanira.

Carroll, 1987, 344, and Fig., 346, n. 2, as Rosso.

Mugnaini, 1994, 119, 120, the woman, personifying Pleasure or Luxury with her mask an indication of vice, trying to attract Hercules’s attention, points to his groin; he, abandoned to sleep, rejects her, with a mask under his foot.

Acton, in French Renaissance, 1994, 309-312, under no. 75, as a model for Boyvin’s print, and, interpreting the print, comments: the canine mask and paws seeming carved ornament on the couch leg; Hercules rests his left foot on the mask, which he has laid down with his weapons, the woman reaching out as if to awaken him, her gesture indicating her intent or desire, the removed masks implying that intimacy has taken place; hence perhaps should be called The Surprise or Conquest of Hercules.

Although this drawing is badly damaged, the well preserved parts of it – the figure of Hercules and the area beneath him – show a draughtsmanship identical to that of Rosso’s Bacchus in a Niche (Fig.D.18a) and the other three surviving drawings for the Gods in Niches of 1526, all executed in red chalk, as well as to that of his Empedocles-St. Roch (Fig.D.80a), done in the same medium.  Furthermore, the image of the drawing is clearly by Rosso.  The figure of Hercules is virtually identical to that of the sleeping male nude in the right oval painting of Diana in her chariot above the Danaë in the Gallery of Francis I (Fig.P.22, IV S e).  The woman, more fully visible in the reversed engraving of this scene attributed to Boyvin (see below), resembles the standing woman to the left of center in the Loss of Perpetual Youth in the gallery (Fig.P.22, II S d), although her proportions are more like those of the figures painted alongside the stucco satyrs on the wall containing the Enlightenment of Francis I (Fig.P.22, VII S a).  She wears a ruffled headdress similar to that of the Virgin in the Dei Altarpiece (Fig.P.12c), but also like that of the Virgin in Rosso’s late drawing of the Holy Family with St. Anne known from a copy in Milan (Fig.D.82).

As the imagery of the drawing is most closely related to works that Rosso did in France, and as the print made from it can be attributed to Boyvin or his shop, the drawing must date from Rosso’s French period.  It would seem also to have been done after the small oval picture in the gallery from which the drawing borrows the sleeping male figure.  Small as the nude in the gallery is, it is likely that it was invented for the scene in that major project and then used for the drawing rather than vice versa.  This very Michelangelesque figure appears to have been created during the last phase of Rosso’s work in the gallery.  It is, therefore, very likely that the Louvre drawing was made after Rosso’s final designs for the gallery were made.

The subject of the drawing may give an indication of its date.  Passavant, writing about the engraving made from it, recognized that the male figure is Hercules; he did not know who the young woman is.  She is certainly not Dejanira as Herbet thought (see E.17).  Hercules’s pose indicates that he is sleeping.  The scene probably represents the Dream of Hercules with Virtue or Vice, depending on how the female figure is interpreted, standing beside the hero.  As Hercules was used as a symbol of Charles V in a statue that Rosso designed and that was given to the emperor in Paris on 4 January 1540 (see L.59), it is possible that the Dream of Hercules was made also with reference to this monarch.  The scene could have been devised, perhaps paired with another scene of Hercules showing the alternate episode of this story, for a triumphal arch that was part of the festival decorations set up at Fontainebleau for Charles V’s visit there, which began on 24 December 1539 (see L.47).  The drawing would, therefore, have been made slightly earlier that year.  In any case, the style of the drawing would seem to indicate a date around this time.

PRINT: Boyvin, E.17 (Fig.E.17).  Reversed engraving exactly the same size as the drawing.