Ugly Object of the Month — January 2019

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

We’re kicking off the New Year with what I wager will be a top contender for the 2019 Ugly Object of the Year. This Etruscan (likely votive) bronze statuette from the late 4th–early 2nd century BCE was cast from a mold, so there were probably a number of them in circulation around that time. Can you identify the figure? Hint: what he lacks in musculature he makes up for in telltale attributes, such as the lion’s pelt draped over his left arm.

bronze statuette
Front and back views of a bronze statuette of Herakles. Etruria, Italy, late 4th-early 2nd century BCE. H. 8.5 cm. KM 91834.

That’s right folks — this is none other than Herakles, son of Zeus, paragon of strength and masculinity. I love this particular rendering of Herakles for a number of reasons. First, it reminds me of a certain stop-motion animated character so much that I find myself wanting to call it Gumby Herakles (which I promise I won’t). Second, it flies in the face of hyper-masculine depictions we so often see of Herakles. It’s got a lithe stylization no doubt typical of the time and place it was made but which I find kind of cool and modern. Third, it makes me think about the person who purchased and offered the votive statuette in the hope of achieving some particular outcome. Did this little Herakles work his magic for this individual? I’d like to think so.

Come see Herakles and his companion statuettes in the Etruscan and Southern Italy case, on the first floor of the Kelsey Museum’s Upjohn Exhibit wing.

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