Hercules captures Cerberus
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
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