Hercules and Antaeus

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Hercules and Antaeus
One of the best-known of all Herculean legends occupies the centre of this composition: the moment he strangles the giant Antaeus following an extraordinary and seemingly never-ending battle. As in other tapestries, Iolaus appears impassive, standing on the side and holding the hero’s weapons. In the background, we see several armed men making for their boats.

The great obstacle on the way to the Garden of the Hesperides

Antaeus, the son of Poseidon and Gaia (the Earth), was a giant who lived in Libya. He possessed extraordinary strength and forced foreigners crossing his land to fight with him. After defeating them, he killed them and used their skulls to build a temple to his father. Hercules had been ordered to seek out the golden apples of the Garden of the Hesperides, for which he had to cross Antaeus’ territory.

A titanic battle

The combat between these two characters, both sons of gods, was of titanic proportions. In the background of the tapestry, we see Hercules preparing to strike Antaeus with his mace, while the latter protects himself with a shield. Although Hercules managed to knock his enemy to the ground several times, Antaeus only got back up with yet more energy.

Hercules defeats the son of the Earth

Finally, Hercules realised that Antaeus was being fortified by his contact with the Earth, his mother, and therefore lifted up the giant – stopping him from touching the ground – and strangled him in the air. This is the moment depicted in the central part of the tapestry panel.

A labour within a Labour

The defeat of the giant actually was not one of the Twelve Labours. Hercules was making his way to the Garden of the Hesperides to seek out the golden apples, a task depicted in the following tapestry of the series kept by National Heritage. In some versions of the myth, the meeting with Anteusoccurred on his way back from the mission; this may be the interpretation in the tapestry, given the way in which the men are hurriedly embarking the boats, anxious to return home after completing the feat.

Parrots and other birds

The border of fruit, flowers and parrots is similar to the rest of the extant series, although this one also features other birds and fits with the scene itself. In the selvage we can see the mark of the weaver, Willem Dermoyen.

Series The Labours of Hercules

Fourth tapestry in the extant series

Model Unknown

Manufacture Willem Dermoyen, Brussels, c. 1528

Fabric Silk and wool

Size 362 x 403 cm

Location Royal Palace of Madrid

Origin Collection of Philip II

On display Royal Armoury


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