Hercules Poisoned by the Shirt of Nessus

Object Details

Title:

Hercules Poisoned by the Shirt of Nessus

Artist/Maker(s):

Unknown

Culture:

French

Date:

about 1413 - 1415

Medium:

Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold paint, and ink on parchment

Dimensions:

Leaf: 42 x 29.6 cm (16 9/16 x 11 5/8 in.)

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Grasping a rock in one hand and two trees in the other, the famous hero Hercules writhes in pain. His twisted torso, raised leg, and despairing look heighten the sense of physical and mental agony induced by powerful poison and a tricky centaur.

Years before this event, the centaur Nessus intercepted Hercules and his new bride Deianeira and tried to rape her, but Hercules mortally wounded the centaur with a poisoned arrows. Before he died, Nessus told Deianeira to keep the blood from his wound, for anyone wearing a garment rubbed with it would love her forever. When Hercules subsequently fell in love with another woman, Deianeira saw the opportunity to use the magic blood to keep his love. She sent Hercules a garment smeared with Nessus's blood, but the supposed love-charm proved to be a powerful poison.

Related Works
Exhibitions
Transforming Tradition: Ancient Motifs in Medieval Manuscripts (September 23 to November 30, 2003)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), September 23 to November 30, 2003