Diomedes Devoured by Horses
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Gustave Moreau
French, 1866
Watercolor over graphite
8 7/16 x 7 3/4 in.

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As the shadowy figure of Hercules observes from between two columns in the background, four wild horses rip apart the slender body of King Diomedes. The brown mare fastens her teeth on his arm, while another sinks her jaw into his leg. Bodies of the horses' previous victims lie piled to the right, above a pool of blood-stained water. This scene shows the dramatic climax from the eighth labor of Hercules, who was ordered to capture the four flesh-eating horses belonging to King Diomedes. Hercules killed the king in battle and fed his body to the horses, which tamed them. Gustave Moreau's fascination with violent, emotionally charged subjects portrayed in jewel-like colors typifies mid-1800s French painting. Here Moreau's luminous and delicately applied watercolor washes enhance an already dramatic scene, highlighting the vertical body of the doomed Diomedes, whose extended, stretched limbs repeat the dynamic rearing motion of the brown horse's front legs. In calm contrast, Hercules rests in the background, silhouetted against a blue sky subtly rendered with light patches of wash.

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