The Labours of Hercules reliefs from the Villa Chiragan, Musée Saint-Raymond Toulouse (France)

In honour of Twitter’s international Museum Week (#MuseumWeek), I invite you today to discover some of my favourite sculptures from the collections of the Musée Saint-Raymond in Toulouse (France). The museum is among the best and richest archaeological museums in France and visitors can discover the Roman town of Tolosa (Toulouse in Roman times), the sculptures discovered at the Villa Chiragan and the remains of a necropolis from late antiquity. Its collection, spread over three floors, gives a fascinating glimpse of the history of Toulouse and its area.

Known since the 16th century, the first excavations at the Villa Chiragan were conducted in 1826. The villa was occupied for over four centuries, from the end of the 1st century BC to the early 5th century. Dozens of Roman marble portraits were unearthed as well as a unique ensemble of reliefs depicting the twelve labours of Hercules. The reliefs date from the end of 3rd century AD, during the time of the first Tetrarchy (‘Rule of Four’) instituted by Emperor Diocletian. The empire was effectively divided in two, with an Augustus and a subordinate Caesar in each part. Diocletian appointed fellow officer Maximian as Augustus of the West.

The Labors of Hercules, marble relief discovered at the site of the Roman villa of Chiragan, end of 3rd century AD, Musée Saint-Raymond Toulouse Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The Labours of Hercules, marble relief discovered at the site of the Roman villa of Chiragan, end of 3rd century AD
Musée Saint-Raymond
Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The Labours of Hercules, marble relief discovered at the site of the Roman villa of Chiragan, end of 3rd century AD, Musée Saint-Raymond Toulouse Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The Labours of Hercules, marble relief discovered at the site of the Roman villa of Chiragan, end of 3rd century AD
Musée Saint-Raymond
Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The emperor Maximian (286-305) was also referred to by the title of Herculius as he was under the protection of the hero Hercules. This connection between god and emperor helped to legitimize the emperors’ claims to power and tied imperial government closer to the traditional cult. A marble head of Emperor Maximian was discovered on the site of the Villa Chiragan. The emperor is depicted with similar features as Hercules; the head becomes narrow at the top, small eyes with a piercing look, prominent cheek bones, hollow cheeks, a strong lower jaw, and a very thick neck. This physique is close to that of his heroic protector Hercules.

Marble head of Maximianus Herculius, discovered at the site of the Roman villa of Chiragan, very end of 3rd century or very beginning of 4th century AD, Musée Saint-Raymond Toulouse Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

Marble head of Maximianus Herculius, discovered at the site of the Roman villa of Chiragan, very end of 3rd century or very beginning of 4th century AD, Musée Saint-Raymond
Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The labours of Hercules reliefs appear to celebrate Maximian’s political actions and imperial victories in an allegorical manner. Such a program could have been ordered by a relative of the Emperor or by the Emperor himself. This means that the villa was a imperial domain during this period.

Hercules battling the Lernaean Hydra

The Labours of Hercules, marble relief discovered at the site of the Roman villa of Chiragan, Hercules and the Lernaean Hydra (2nd labour), end of 3rd century AD, Musée Saint-Raymond Toulouse Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The Labours of Hercules reliefs, Hercules battling the Lernaean Hydra (2nd labour)
Musée Saint-Raymond
Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

To read about Hercules’ 2nd labour: The Lernean Hydra

Hercules capturing the Erymanthian Boar

The Labours of Hercules reliefs, Hercules capturing the Erymanthian Boar (4th labour) Musée Saint-Raymond Toulouse Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The Labours of Hercules reliefs, Hercules capturing the Erymanthian Boar (4th labour)
Musée Saint-Raymond
Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

To read about Hercules’ 4th labour: The Erymanthean Boar

Hercules cleaning the Augean stables

The Labours of Hercules reliefs, Hercules cleaning the Augean stables (5th labour) Musée Saint-Raymond Toulouse Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The Labours of Hercules reliefs, Hercules cleaning the Augean stables (5th labour)
Musée Saint-Raymond
Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

To read about Hercules’ 5th labour: The Augean Stables

Hercules slaying the Stymphalian Birds

The Labours of Hercules reliefs, Hercules slaying the Stymphalian Birds (6th labour)
Musée Saint-Raymond
Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

To read about Hercules’ 6th labour: The Stymphalian Birds

Hercules capturing the Cretan Bull

The Labours of Hercules, Hercules capturing the Cretan Bull (7th labour) Musée Saint-Raymond Toulouse Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The Labours of Hercules, Hercules capturing the Cretan Bull (7th labour)
Musée Saint-Raymond
Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

To read about Hercules’ 7th labour: The Cretan Bull

Heracles capturing the Mares of Diomedes

The Labours of Hercules, marble relief discovered at the site of the Roman villa of Chiragan, Heracles capturing the Mares of Diomedes (8th labour), end of 3rd century AD, Musée Saint-Raymond Toulouse Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The Labours of Hercules reliefs, Heracles capturing the Mares of Diomedes (8th labour)
Musée Saint-Raymond
Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

To read about Hercules’ 8th labour: The Horses of Diomedes

Hercules fighting the Amazons

The Labours of Hercules reliefs, Hercules stealing the apples of the Hesperides (11th labour) Musée Saint-Raymond Toulouse Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The Labours of Hercules reliefs, Hercules fighting the Amazons (9th labour)
Musée Saint-Raymond
Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

To read about Hercules’ 9th labour: The Belt of Hippolyte

Hercules fighting the three-headed monster Geryon

The Labours of Hercules reliefs, Hercules fighting the cattle of Geryon (10th labour)
Musée Saint-Raymond
Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

To read about Hercules’ 10th labour: Geryon’s Cattle.

You can also read an interpretation of this unique relief here and learn why the monster in this relief is represented as a Roman soldier.

Hercules stealing the apples of the Hesperides

The Labours of Hercules reliefs, Hercules stealing the apples of the Hesperides (11th labour) Musée Saint-Raymond Toulouse Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

The Labours of Hercules reliefs, Hercules stealing the apples of the Hesperides (11th labour)
Musée Saint-Raymond Toulouse
Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

To read about Hercules’ 11th labour: The Apples of the Hesperides

Hercules capturing Cerberus

The Labours of Hercules reliefs, Hercules capturing Cerberus (12th labour)
Musée Saint-Raymond
Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

To read about Hercules’ 12th labour: Cerberus

A marble statue of Hercules resting was also found at the Villa Chiragan (although it may have been executed before the Labours reliefs). This statue is one a number of copies of a bronze statue created by Lysippos in the late fourth century BC. At the end of his twelve labors, Hercules is exhausted. The statue shows the tired hero leaning on his club, which is partly concealed by the skin of the Nemean lion. Behind his back he holds the golden apples of the Hesperides, one of Hercules last labours.

Marble statue of Hercules leaning on his club, which has the skin of the Nemean lion draped over it, 2nd - 3rd century AD, Villa Chiragan, MSR, Musée Saint-Raymond Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

Marble statue of Hercules leaning on his club, 2nd – 3rd century AD, Villa Chiragan
Musée Saint-Raymond
Carole Raddato CC BY-SA

Musée Saint-Raymond, Toulouse
Opening hours: The museum is open every day from 10am till 6pm.
Admission rates: 4 € fee (permanent collection) / 8 € fee (with exhibition).
Free for students, teachers at the Fine Arts School of Toulouse, and youth under 18 years of age.
A guidebook is available in three languages : french, english, spanish.
Address: 1 ter place Saint-Sernin 31000 Toulouse

Website / Twitter / Facebook

MSR, Musée Saint-Raymond, Toulouse © Carole Raddato

MSR, Musée Saint-Raymond, Toulouse
© Carole Raddato

About followinghadrian

I came, I saw, I photographed... follow me in the footsteps of Hadrian!
This entry was posted in France, Museum, Mythology, Roman art, Roman villa and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Labours of Hercules reliefs from the Villa Chiragan, Musée Saint-Raymond Toulouse (France)

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