Hercules and Omphale

WAG 1995.354


This drawing depicts Hercules spinning thread in the service of Omphale, the queen of Lydia. The scene is based on a Greek myth that overturns conventional gender roles and balances of power. It tells the story of how Hercules became enslaved to the Queen of Lydia. This punishment was directed by the oracle at Delphi to atone for the murder of his friend Iphitos. Once captive, Omphale forced the once-mighty warrior to spin wool, a task traditionally done by women in domestic servitude, and to wear women’s clothes. The inversion of traditionally male and female roles, dominance and submission, are the central focus of this drawing. Hercules's subservience is emphasised. He is shown seated on the left, slumped, holding a distaff in his left hand and a spindle in his right. Omphale is pictured standing in front of Hercules, semi-clothed, jeering at him. She is leaning on his club and wearing the lion's pelt Hercules wore to commemorate his victory over the Nemean Lion. She is surrounded by four ladies in waiting who wear expressions of mockery and derision on their faces. Although the scene flips conventional gender roles it also warns against dominant women. While she is in a position of power, she is still shown semi-nude to appeal to Turchi’s masculine patrons. This drawing is a finished design or 'modello' for the large painting of Hercules and Omphale, now at Alte Pinakothek, Munich (No 496), one of Turchi's most famous works from his early Roman period. It can be dated to about 1620, as Giulio Mancini refers to Turchi's 'Hercules in the act of spinning' as already finished in 1621. Turchi was sometimes referred to as Alessandro Veronese after his birth place Verona. He was also nicknamed ‘l'Orbetto’, the little blind boy. His father, whom he always accompanied as a child, was a blind beggar.