Hercules battling the Minotaur

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Hercules battling the Minotaur
Armed with his forbidding mace, Hercules prepares to give the coup de grâce to the Minotaur, who lies defeated. Iolaus, in the midground, is holding the spear, shield and quiver, which contains his uncle’s bow and arrows. In the background, we see the boats in which Hercules and his companions reached Crete; we also see a tumultuous battle, a depiction of the fighting between the Cretans and the new arrivals. The scene takes place in a wooded landscape and is framed by a wide border of fruit and flowers with parrots in the bottom corners.

The Cretan Bull and the Minotaur

The Cretan Bull appears in many stories as a creature sent by Poseidon to King Minos. Minos was meant to sacrifice it to the god, but did not do so because of the bull’s beauty. Poseidon, enraged, made Minos´ wife Pasiphaë fall in love with the bull, with whom she copulated thanks to the bull’s concealment inside a wooden cow made by Daedalus. The offspring was the monstrous Minotaur. It was Theseus who slew the Minotaur, although the feat is attributed in this tapestry to Hercules. This suggests a confusion between the two stories which share common characters.

The original tale of the Seventh Labour

The tapestry is meant to depict what is usually considered the Seventh Labour of Hercules: to capture the Cretan Bull and return to Greece with it. However, in this tapestry the story has been blended with the aforementioned story of Theseus.

The despair of the conquered

Covered with the skin of the Nemean lion, Hercules appears unassailable with his mace, the only weapon which he created himself (his other weapons were provided by the gods). Despite the violence of the action, Hercules appears static and only the Minotaur shows the despair of a someone defeated, conscious of imminent death.

Series The Labours of Hercules

Second tapestry in the extant series

Model Unknown

Manufacture Willem Dermoyen, Brussels, c. 1528

Fabric Silk and wool

Size 361 x 417 cm

Location Royal Palace of Madrid

Origin Collection of Philip II

On display Royal Armoury


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