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Study of Hercules for "The Choice of Hercules"

Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, Italian, 1708 - 1787

Made in Italy, Europe


Red chalk squared in red chalk on laid paper mounted on paper

Sheet: 11 1/8 x 8 5/16 inches (28.3 x 21.1 cm)

Curatorial Department:
Prints, Drawings, and Photographs

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Bequest of Anthony Morris Clark, 1978

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Batoni ran one of the most famous and influential studios in eighteenth-century Rome, and his reputation throughout Europe was equaled by few painters of his day. The painting for which this is a study is now in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence, and shows the mythological Roman hero Hercules choosing between Virtue and Vice, personified by two beautiful women.

Additional information:
  • PublicationArt in Rome in the Eighteenth Century

    It is not surprising that Anthony Clark's collection of eighteenth-century drawings was richest in the works of his favorite Roman artist, Pompeo Batoni. In the same way that he made the entire Roman Settecento almost his own as a field of study, Clark applied his industry and enthusiasm to rediscovering the virtues of this particular Roman painter, whom he studied for over twenty years. His drawings by Batoni are of particular interest for the light they shed on the artist's methods as a history painter. He was a superb draftsman, as careful as he was inventive, for whom the drawn study performed a crucial role in the preparation of the final work. Clark's Batoni drawings, now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Hiesinger and Percy 1980, nos. 30-43), range in date over fifty years from the artist's first public commission to his last, and illustrate the full scope of his draftsmanship, with the exception of Batoni's drawings of antiquities made for English travelers (for these, see Art in Rome cats. 310-13).

    Batoni's surviving oeuvre falls within the traditional categories of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century draftsmanship, including copies of other artists' works, academies (or drawings from the nude), and rough sketches of compositions in the planning stage; there are many studies for individual groups and single figures and rather fewer finished drawings of whole compositions, since Batoni preferred to present oil sketches to patrons commissioning works. Because his drawings exemplify the more academic tendencies of the Roman school in the eighteenth century, it is not surprising that those most frequently encountered are figure and drapery studies in the tradition of Andrea Sacchi and Carlo Maratti, a brilliant example of which is the present drawing.

    A letter from Batoni to Marchese Lodovico Sardini of May 27, 1740, mentions, without describing the exact subject, a picture with three figures ordered by Marchese Carlo Gerini for 150 scudi. A subsequent letter to Sardini of December 15, 1742, mentions that a picture had been recently sent to Marchese Andrea Gerini in Florence, and this painting is almost certainly the Choice of Hercules in the Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Palazzo Pitti, Florence, which is signed and dated 1742 (Clark and Bowron 1985, pp. 228-29, no. 67). Batoni painted several other versions of the theme at different stages of his career (Clark and Bowron 1985, nos. 123, 173, 188), each of them derived, to a greater or lesser degree, from the "canonical" formulation of the subject, the painting by Annibale Carracci in the Pinacoteca Nazionale at Naples (Donald Posner, Annibale Carracci [London; Phaidon, 1971], vol. 2, pl. 93a).

    The moral fable of Hercules at the Crossroads was invented by the Greek sophist Prodicus, a friend of Socrates and Plato, and is described by Xenophon (Memorabilia 2.1: 22ff) and other ancient writers. The frequent occurrence and interpretations of the theme as an allegory in Renaissance and Baroque art have been examined by Erwin Panofsky in a classic study (Hercules am Scheidewege, Leipzig-Berlin, 1930). In the Palazzo Pitti painting, Hercules is depicted seated under a tree, divided in choice between the invitations of two female figures personifying Virtue and Vice.

    Batoni selected a muscular model, young and beardless, to assume the exact pose of the seated Hercules in the painting. The study from life was presumably made at a relatively late date in the evolution of the composition because the pose of the model corresponds quite closely to that of Hercules in the painting, and it was Batoni's practice to finish his paintings with the model before him (see Art in Rome cat. 314). Edgar Peters Bowron, from Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century (2000), cat. 315, pp. 473-474.

    Emmerling, Ernst. Pompeo Batoni: Sein Leben und Werk. Darmstadt, Germany: Hobhann, 1932, p. 83.
    Clark, Anthony M. Pompeo Batoni: A Complete Catalogue of His Works. Edited by Edgar Peters Bowron. New York: New York University Press, 1985, pp. 228, 385, no. D165, pl. 61.
  • PublicationItalian Master Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    The serenity and beauty of Batoni’s figures derive from the skilled copies he made of classical statuary, drawings that came to be prized by British antiquarian collectors. The precision and luminosity of his draughtmanship might be traced to his early training in the shop of his father, a distinguished goldsmith. Anthony Clark noted that the present drawing served as the preparatory study for the figure of Hercules in a painting, The Choice of Hercules, now in the Galleria d’Arte Moderna of the Palazzo Pitti, Florence (Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century, no. 67, pl. 66), and mentioned another drawing, then on the London market (ibid., no. D 117), for the figure of Vice. The painting is signed and dated 1742, or at the outset of the artist’s most intensive production (A Scholar Collects: Selections from the Anthony Morris Clark Bequest, p. 46), and may have been commissioned in May 1740 for the marchese Carlo Gerini in Florence. It is apparently a replica of a larger painting of unknown date (Lucca, Palazzo Ducale. Mostra di Pompeo Batoni {in appendice: Il carteggio del Batoni dell'Archivio di Stato di Lucca}. Exhibition catalogue edited by Isa Belli Barsali. Lucca, 1967, pp. 115-16, no. 14). The artist repeated the subject, in which Hercules must choose between Virtue and Vice, personified by two beautiful women (see Xenophon, Memorabilia, 2.1.21 34), in several later versions (Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century, nos. 123, 173, 288; pls. 120, 165, 264), including one in the Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, signed and dated ROMÆ ANNO 1765 (ibid., no. 288). The Philadelphia drawing comes from an album consisting primarily of figure studies by Batoni and Mengs, which began to be disbound at the time of the Veuve Galippe sale in 1923. Ernst Emmerling (1931) identified the remaining Batoni drawings from the group that was with Dr. Fritz Haussmann in Berlin, which included forty-four tracings and some photographs of the drawings; Clark identified further sheets from the album as by Batoni after their acquisition by Yvonne ffrench in 1958-60. Mimi Cazort, from Italian Master Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2004), cat. 40.

    Emmerling, Ernst. "Pompeo Batoni, Handzeichnung-Klebeband der Sammlung Haussmann Berlin, Katalog und Pausen / 1931, von Ernst Emmerling." Ingelheim, Germany, ms., collection Ernst Emmerling, p. 83;
    Yvonne ffrench, London. Exhibition of Old Master and Early English Drawings. 7-19 November 1960, at the Alpine Club Gallery. Catalogue. [London: Yvonne ffrench, 1960], no. 24;
    Cleveland, Ohio, The Cleveland Museum of Art. Neo-Classicism: Style and Motif. Exhibition catalogue by Henry Hawley. Cleveland, Ohio: The Cleveland Museum of Art, distributed by Harry N. Abrams, 1964, no. 8, repro.;
    Philadelphia Museum of Art. A Scholar Collects: Selections from the Anthony Morris Clark Bequest. Exhibition catalogue edited by Ulrich W. Hiesinger and Ann Percy. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1980. [Later shown at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 17 April-13 June 1982.], no. 33, fig. 33;
    Clark, Anthony M. Pompeo Batoni: A Complete Catalogue of His Works with an Introductory Text. Edited and prepared for publication by Edgar Peters Bowron. New York: New York University Press, 1985, no. D165, pl. 61;
    Philadelphia Museum of Art; Houston, Texas, The Museum of Fine Arts. The Splendor of 18th-Century Rome. Exhibition catalogue titled Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century, edited by Edgar Peters Bowron and Joseph J. Rishel. Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art in association with Merrell, 2000, no. 315, fig. 315.

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