Achelous defeated by Hercules or The origin of the Cornocopia
In a landscape with meadows and scattered groves of trees, nymphs and satyrs fill a bullhorn with flowers, wheat and fruit. The horn is from the river god Acheloos, who transformed into a bull in the hope of conquering Hercules in the duel for Deianeira’s hand. But Hercules overpowered him and broke the horn off as easily as he had strangled the snake that was Acheloos’ first stunt.
In the painting he is seen in the form of the bull. He observes the doings of nature’s gods together with Hercules, who, dressed in a lion skin, leans against his club.
This painting is made with inspiration from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
History of the painting
This painting was ordered by the Danish king and delivered from Holland in 1652 or 1653. It is described in the inventory of the Royal Danish Chamber of Art from 1690:
"A large, deftly executed piece by Jordanes on Nymphis and cornucopia [corn = horn, copia = abundance]."
We do not know with certainty if it was Christian IV or his successor to the throne, Frederik III, who commissioned the work. But it is certain that it hung in the Chamber of Art, which was established by Frederik III.
It is rare that the ownership history of a 17th-century artwork can be traced all the way back to the commission and the context in question. Is there a deeper meaning to the king’s arrangements? An answer may be found in some of the interpretations that Jordaens’ contemporaries made of the story of Acheloos.
Interpretation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses
The Dutch artist and art critic Karel van Mander published an interpretation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Wtlegghingh op den Metamorphosis, in Haarlem in 1604. Here it is advanced that the presence of the cornucopia in such scenes symbolises the power that follows with money:
"With the cornucopia, or abundance / nothing is said other than / the power and mastery of wealth / that all are subject to money; above all the cornucopia expresses / strength or power."
("Met den hoorn van Copia, of overvloedichheyt / wil niet anders geseyt wesen / dan de cracht oft t’vermogen des rijckdoms / dat alles den gelde is onderworpen; want over al wort met den hoorn uytghebeeldt / sterckheyt of cracht." after Antwerpen 93 II, pg. 86, Van Mander 1604B, f0 74).
Written by Eva de la Fuente Pedersen.
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