Ubaldo Gandolfi (San Matteo della Decima, Bologna 1728 - 1781 Ravenna

Hercules and Lernean Hydra
Oil on canvas, 112.5 x 157 cm

Private collection, United Kingdom

M. Gregori, 14 August 2008;
D. Biagi, 28 December 2010.


Painter, draughtsman, sculptor and etcher, Ubaldo Gandolfi was an Italian artist of the late Baroque period, mainly active in the surroundings of Bologna. Ubaldo was born in San Matteo della Decima and by the age of 17, enrolled at the Accademia Clementina in Bologna, where he was taught by Ercole Graziani II, Felice Torelli and Ercole Lelli. Lelli is known for the eerily lifelike wax models of dissected cadavers that he made for the Istituto d'Anatomia. The precise knowledge of human anatomy that is so evident in both Ubaldo's and Gaetano's paintings could very well be directly related to his teaching and, again, harks back to Carracci’s Accademia degli Illuminati.  In this tradition, forms were characterised by precise naturalism with frequent references to classical statuary and by a methodology entirely based on the practice of classical life drawing - all elements inherited by Ubaldo.

As a draftsman, Ubaldo made an outstanding contribution to the great figurative tradition of Bolognese draughtsmanship; he is in fact considered one of the last representatives of the local school that had risen to prominence nearly two centuries earlier with the Carracci and that was aiming to reach an eclectic and idealist style. In the words of a sonnet from Agostino Carracci to Niccolò dell'Abbate, the Incamminato (the pupil enrolled in the Accademia) would take from Raphael a feminine grace of line, from Michelangelo a muscular force, from Titian strong colours and from Correggio gentle colours.

Gandolfi's works range from Baroque to Neoclassic styles, and specifically recall the style of Ludovico Carracci. Among his most important works are the series of canvases based on mythological narratives in the Palazzo Marescalchi, Bologna  which was completed between 1770 and 1775. He died in Ravenna in 1781.  

The present painting depicts Hercules resting after having defeated the Hydra, a monster with nine heads that inhabited a swamp near Lerna and terrorised the countryside. This was a well-know subject, common amongst the Accademia degliIncamminati’s for its symbolic content - the triumph of good over evil - and because it offered the chance to draw the human body following the Michelangelo canon. The naturalism of the poseand the prominence given to the human figure in the composition allow us to think that this Hercules is based on the observation of a male model.