Hercules captures Cerberus

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Hercules captures Cerberus
Hercules, covered completely with the skin of the Nemean lion, is tying up the dog Cerberus while Iolaus, as usual, looks on from the margins. Two people stand beneath an arch – which resembles the Gate of Hell, and which was controlled by this fearsome guardian – showing their amazement at the feat.

The monstrous dog of Hell

Eurystheus sent Hercules to hell to capture the dog Cerberus, the monstrous son of Echidna and Typhon, who had three heads – as can be seen in the tapestry – and a serpent for a tail. The “Hound of Hades”, as Homer refers to it, happily let people enter hell, but he would devour them if they tried to leave. There is no agreement as to whether this was the last or second-to-last of the Labours.

Help from the gods

Hercules needed the help of Hermes and Athena to complete the task. He was firstly initiated in the Eleusinian Mysteries, which allowed him to reach the other world safely, and he began to descend to the kingdom of the dead. The dead, seeing him arrive, fled in fear, except the Gorgon Medusa and Meleager. The latter told Hercules his story, moving the hero so much that he promised to marry Meleager’s daughter Deianira upon his return.

Hercules fights with his bare hands

Now in Hades’ presence, Hercules asked permission to be taken to Cerberus. Hades agreed, as long as Hercules defeated the dog without using weapons. Although the mace appears beside Hercules, he could not use it and instead strangled the monster, despite the dog inflicting numerous stings with its venomous tail. Later, he freed Theseus and Ascalaphus, the two mean who appear in the tapestry at the Gate of Hell. The hero returned to the land of the living with the dog. Seeing them, Eurystheus hid in panic, and Hercules, not knowing what to do, returned the dog to Hades.

Deianira, Hercules’ wife

In the upper right-hand part of the cloth, two scenes are depicted: one is clear, since Hercules, with his attributes, walks alongside Deianira, who he had promised to marry. The second, a battle, is perhaps a reference to the battle Hercules had with the river-god Achelous before his marriage. Achelous, a suitor to the young woman, was turned into a bull, which Hercules defeated, pulling out one of its horns.

A repeated border

In the selvage of this tapestry we can see the mark of the weaver Willem Dermoyen; the border of fruits and flowers with birds largely repeats that of the other tapestries.

Series The Labours of Hercules

Sixth tapestry in the extant series

Model Unknown

Manufacture Willem Dermoyen, Brussels, c. 1528

Fabric Silk and wool

Size 345 x 390 cm

Location Royal Palace of Madrid

Origin Collection of Philip II

On display Royal Armoury


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