January 5, 2021

Hercules and Rene Lalique’s Archers Vase

Lark Mason III
Rene Lalique, Amber and White Stained Archers Vase, No. 893
available on iGavel Auctions until January 7, 2021

Rene Jules Lalique (born 1860-died 1945) is one of the most celebrated art glass designers of the 20th century. His designs created during the 1920's are his most successful works and one of the most successful is The Archer's vase Marcilhac no. 893. (Felix Marcilhac, author Rene Lalique Catalog Raisonne de l’oeuvre de Verre, published 2011). Designed in 1921, but first produced in 1928 in Lalique’s Wingen-sur-Moder factory, the vase is identified by the etched number 893 on the base.

Terracotta Nolan amphora (jar)ca. 480–470 B.C., Greek, Attic, The Met

The archer theme is taken from classical sources but the relationship of archer imagery to the ancient Greeks is uncertain. Dr. Todd Alexander Davis (online article May 16, 2017) finds archers in Ancient Greek art but they are primarily foreign Scythians. The ideal Greek warrior depicted in ancient art were Hoplites, armed with spear and short sword, not bows.

By Albrecht Dürer - The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain

One of the great heroes of classical mythology is Hercules. Famous for the 12 labours, of which the sixth of these was the slaying of the Stymphalian birds described by E-M. Berens as, "immense birds who... shot from their wings feathers sharp as arrows." Hercules defeats the birds with his bow, because the marshy ground where the birds lived could not support Hercules weight, a scene depicted by Albrecht Durer in a work from 1500.

Emile-Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929) was an assistant to Rodin from 1893-1908 and independent sculptor who depicted Hercules Sixth Labour and battle of the Stymphalian birds in a monumental plaster sculpture exhibited at the 1910 Salon de la Societe Nationale des Beaux-arts in Paris, where Rene Lalique exhibited in 1911. It is likely Lalique saw and knew of Bourdelle’s work both from the exhibition and the many bronze versions. Lalique’s archer's are leanly athletic and vigorous under a canopy of sweeping birds but the direct association with Hercules is hard to reconcile because Lalique has a troop of archers fending off an flock of attacking birds, not a single figure representing the classical hero in mortal combat and Bourdelle’s Hercules is brutally muscular, not lithely athletic.

Terracotta psykter (vase for cooling wine)ca. 520–510 B.C.
, Attributed to Oltos, The Met

How Lalique wanted the archers to be viewed is unknown. But if these represent Hercules in a variety of poses, each showing the hero drawing the bow and performing individual actions depicted in a continuous linear depiction, then the scene becomes an unfolding story just as is done with the black attic ware heroic scenes of ancient Greek pottery. The many crouching figures are then both a troop of archers and one heroic figure in multiple events with each figure meant to be viewed individually as the hero defeats his foes. Bourdelle’s muscular Hercules is more inspiration that example, and the wealth of classical ancient Greek pottery in Paris easily was accessible to Lalique, providing a model for the retelling of the heroic sixth labour.