Charles Le Brun

Hercules Slaying the Centaurs

c. 1660
This is a model for part of an elaborate painted ceiling in the Hôtel Lambert, Paris. Le Brun won the commission shortly after returning from four years' study in Rome, and his work was inspired by celebrated Italian models. The ceiling showed episodes from the story of Hercules. This scene depicts the brawl that ensued after the hero stopped to accept the invitation of the centaur Pholus to join him to drink a prized wine given by the god Dionysius to the centaurs in common. Resentful at Pholus for sharing the gift, the other centaurs fight. At centre, Pholus and Hercules vie with another centaur for the wine sack. In le Brun's rendition the scene is almost comic, a tangle of bodies (human and animal) fighting amidst the remains of the overturned feast. Wine, not blood, catches the eye - spurting out from the sack, spilling from pitchers and staining the ground.
Hercules Slaying the Centaurs
c. 1660
oil on canvas
77.5 x 112 cm
Credit line
Purchased 1939
Accession number