Hercules and Antaeus
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 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
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