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Let's Talk About Art - Giambologna, Hercules and the Centaur Nessus

Flemish born sculptor Giambologna, also known as Jean de Boulogne, 1529-1608, was the most important late renaissance sculptor in Italy. He was greatly influenced by hellenistic sculpture and the greatest sculptor of the era, Michelangelo.

Giambologna is famous for his small bronze statuettes and large marble statues. Among his most acclaimed works are the bronze sculpture of the messenger god Mercury and the Fountain of Neptune in Bologna. The Abduction of a Sabine Woman is Giambologna’s most celebrated work and is praised as one of the greatest sculptures of all time.

You can recognize his mannerist works by the overemphasized poses, the emphasis on emotion and the sense of movement of his figures. He famously incorporates the figura serpentinata into some of his designs. This spiral pose makes his sculptures even more dynamic. This large marble sculpture depicts the fight between Greek hero Hercules and the centaur Nessus who was the ferryman across the river Euenos. After Hercules kills Nessus’ father Centauros, Nessus plots to have his revenge.

He kidnaps Hercules’ wife Deianiera. Hercules ends his crime by killing the centaur with a poisoned arrow. Giambologna changes the story however by overpowering Nessus with his club. Carved from a single block of marble, the work foreshadows the baroque movement. Giambologna influenced many upcoming sculptors such as Adriaen de Vries and of course Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The work was commissioned by Grand Duke Ferdinand I and completed by Giambologna in 1599. After initially being placed in 1600 at the Canto de’ Carnesecchi, it was reinstalled in 1842 in the Loggia dei Lanzi. It has remained there ever since to be admired by people who walk on the Piazza della Signoria.

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