John Michael Rysbrack (Antwerp 1694 – London 1770)
Marble on marble pedestal, Hercules, John Michael Rysbrack (1694-1770), 1756, signed and dated ‘Mich. Rysbrack 1756’. Hercules, nude with the exception of a fig leaf, stands in contrapposto and leans on his club which is placed on the pelt of the Nemean lion draped over a boulder. His proper left hand is positioned on his left hip; he looks out to left. Mounted on grey marble pedestal by Rysbrack (NT 562911.2).
Described by Horace Walpole as Rysbrack’s ‘chef d’oevre’, Hercules was ordered by Henry Hoare II (1705-85), the sculptor’s life-long patron, in 1747 and mounted as ‘the principal ornament’ in the Pantheon at Stourhead (Walpole quoted in Webb 1950, p.311). It originated from a terracotta model of 1744 (NT 732894), bronze-like in the finesse of its modelling and finishing, exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1763 and bequeathed to Hoare in the sculptor’s will. The model features in the famous portrait of Rysbrack by Andrea Soldi, 1753 (Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, B1976.7.75). A paper agreement of July 1747 records the terms under which the great marble was commissioned. It shows that Rysbrack and his patron settled on ‘the sum of three hundred pounds’ for a ‘Hercules in statuary marble six feet three inches high’, with plinth, ‘finish’d according to the model agreed on’ (the terracotta). A deposit of ‘one Hundred and fifty pounds’ was paid at the start, ‘seventy five pounds’ was promised half-way through, and the ‘remaining seventy five pounds’ payable when the statue was finished. A note inscribed on the same piece of paper, but dated July 1752, shows that work had only then begun, five years after the agreement had been established. Hercules is signed and dated ‘Mich. Rysbrack 1756’ and there is a separate bill in Hoare’s Bank ledger for £83 14s. 6d. for the pedestal. Despite waiting nine years for his Hercules, Hoare was pleased with the final result, paying the sculptor a further £50 ‘beyond ye Contract’ in July 1757. In 1760 Rysbrack completed a companion statue of the Farnese Flora at the cost of £200 (NT 562912.1, the terracotta model is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, inv.no. A.9-1961). The sculpture is a composite, Horace Walpole writes, of ‘the head of Farnesian god’ and the ‘various parts and limbs of seven or eight of the strongest and best made men in London’, chiefly ‘bruisers and boxers’ (Walpole quoted in Webb 1950, p.311). ‘The arms were Broughton’s [i.e. Jack Broughton (1703/4-89), the English bare-knuckle boxer], the breast a celebrated coachman’s, a bruiser, and the legs were those of Ellis the painter’, a ‘great frequenter’ of a London ‘gymnasium’ (ibid). Rysbrack’s artistic source was of course the Farnese Hercules (Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples), from which he produced a full-size terracotta bust (Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, B1977.14.28), and Pietro da Cortona’s Hercules, known only in an engraving by J.F. Greuter published in Rome in 1646 as the frontispiece to Padre G. B. Ferrari’s Hesperides sive Malorum Aureorum Cultura et Usus (British Museum, London, 1872,0511.1154) (Kenworthy-Brown 1983, pp.216-9). Alice Rylance-Watson December 2018
Stourhead, The Hoare Collection (The National Trust)
Marks and inscriptions
Mich. Rysbrack 1756
Makers and roles
John Michael Rysbrack (Antwerp 1694 – London 1770), sculptor