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Austin 1980.33

Attic Black-Figure Oinochoe Collection of the Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, the University of Texas, Austin, James R. Dougherty, Jr. Foundation and Archer M. Huntington Museum Fund Purchase (1980.33) Related to the Class of Vatican G47 520-500 B.C. Height: 13.9 cm. Herakles wrestling the Nemean Lion

The first of Herakles' labors was the capture and killing of the lion which had ravaged the valley around Nemea, in the northeastern Peloponnesos. The lion's invulnerable pelt rendered all weapons useless and forced the hero to engage the beast in a wrestling match and finally strangle it. Herakles skinned the dead animal and thereafter wore the impervious hide for protection, and in vase-painting it is usually his distinguishing attribute (see for example New Orleans 16.38).

On this vase, the wrestling match is in full swing and the outcome is still in doubt. Herakles is entirely nude, but for a fillet around his head and a baldric worn diagonally around his chest, to support a sword. His bow, quiver, and sword all rest in the branches of a tree in the background. With his left hand the hero is grasping the lion's belly, while his right holds off a rear paw with which the lion tries to claw Herakles' head. He hunches over the lion's luxuriant mane, leaving his thigh and groin area exposed and dangerously close to the lion's open jaws. Behind Herakles stands Iolaos, his young nephew and frequent companion in his labors. He wears a corselet over a short chiton and holds Herakles' knotty club. His sword hangs from a baldric, and a second baldric crosses in an X pattern. He stretches out his left hand over the wrestling pair as a weak gesture of fright, or of encouragement for the hero.

In early black-figure, before about 540, Herakles and the lion regularly wrestle standing up. The great master Exekias apparently first showed them wrestling on the ground, as John Boardman has recently demonstrated, on a vase, fragments of which are at Ensérune. After that this version became increasingly popular in the last quarter of the sixth century, the period of the Austin oinochoe.

This vase is similar in shape to a large class of late sixth century oinochoai designated by Beazley the Class of Vatican G47. The term 'class' refers to shape and proportions, not to drawing style.


ABV, 431, 9; Brommer 1973, 136,40; CVA, Castle Ashby (Great Britain 15) 13-14 and pl. 22.5-7; Christie's Sale Catalogue, lot. 78, p. 119, ill. On Herakles and the Lion: Brommer 1974, 7-11; for the wrestling match on the ground and the Ensérune fragments: Boardman 1978, 14-15.

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