Hercules at the crossroads

(c. 1596; Naples, Museo di Capodimonte)
   Cardinal Odoardo Farnese summoned Annibale Carracci to Rome from Bologna in c. 1595 to decorate his newly built Palazzo Farnese. Hercules at the Crossroads is the first major work Annibale carried out in the palace. The scene, painted on canvas, was intended to be mounted on the ceiling of the cardinal's camerino (studio) and shows Hercules at the crossroads pondering the proper path to take. Virtue, on the left, points to a trail up a mountain while a poet next to her prepares to sing Hercules' praises should he accept what she has to offer. On the right, Pleasure entices the hero to a life of vice by presenting to him playing cards, theater masks, and musical instruments. The scene is based on the story by Prodicus, the fifth-century BCE sophist philosopher, as recorded by Xenophon in the Memorabilia, meant to guide young men to choose virtue over vice. As such, the image points to the proper choice Cardinal Farnese made when he took the religious path.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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