Cornelis van Haarlem, Hercules and Achelous

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Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem, who lived from 1562 to 1638, was a Northern Mannerism pioneer as well as a Dutch Golden Age painter. The painter was born in Haarlem and received his education in Antwerp. The artist was influenced by Italian painters of the Baroque and Mannerism periods, as well as northern painters such as Bartholomeus Spranger. He went on to become a well-known portrait painter. However, his mythological and biblical paintings have launched him to fame in recent years (Gellar et al. 17).
Hercules and Achelous is one of his most Baroque paintings, with bold chiaroscuro. Achelous lived as spirit of the Achelous River which was the largest river in Greece. He came to be regarded as supreme river deity. Being an extreme deity of antique, his worship goes beyond the worship of the Greek Pantheon. As time went by, Achelous earned the respect of being regarded as the source of fresh water in the entire universe- by extension, every form of nourishment. Despite being seen as a river, he also appeared in numerous forms- a snake that had gleaming colors, he also appeared as the most potent bull with horns, a young man with magical beards that acted as a source of a continuous stream of water (Gellar et al. 19).

Achelous was interested in becoming princess Dejanira’s suitor. However, Hercules was also interested in wooing the lady. Therefore, that presented a conflict between them. Hercules was also not a man of no mean feat. Despite being a physically strong man, he was a folk who maintained very few words. After listening to Achelous say all manner of derogatory things about him, he settled it his heart that its only a physical fight that was going to determine who between them was going to win over the contested Dejanira’s hand in marriage.

When all was set, the much-anticipated fight between the two protagonists begun. No sooner had they commenced the battle, than Hercules held and grabbed Achelous-the river god, threw him and restrained him on to the floor. Hercules had descended on Achelous with a huge force that the god of the river felt exclaimed that he felt like a mountain had come down on him. He acknowledged the impact of Hercules and said that he was a mountain of a man (Gellar et al. 20).

When Achelous realized that he could not outmatch Hercules in a wrestling match that was regulated, he changed into a snake and slithered from the arms of the strong man. He tried to scare Hercules by coiling and producing the hissing sound of a snake but that did not intimidate the stromg man in any way because he had been slaying snakes ever since he was a kid. Hercules further reminded him of his famous maiden feat where he strangled two snakes that wanted to kill him by crawling into his crib.

After seeing that changing into a snake would not help him win the fight, Achelous morphed into a furious bull. He tried to attach Hercules by placing his broad head in a position that would ensure that the sharp horns pointed directly at Hercules. To frighten his opponent further, he scratched the ground and the charged. That elicited a gasp from the crowd. Everyone in attendance new that Achelous was going to crush Hercules by his latest move. Unknown to him, the horns to a man like Hercules were just convenient handles. He got hold of the horns of Achelous and flipped the god of the river to the ground. Moreover, he dealt a mighty jerk to one horn and it ended up breaking up (Wyssenbach 328).

Hercules then won the contest and became the undisputed suitor of Dejanira. The residents of Calydon also won. The goddess whose name was Plenty made a decree that the broken horn of the bull be filled with vegetables and fruits of the harvest. The horn became regarded as Cornucopia or the Horn that has plenty of endowments. Therefore, with the unavailability of the horn, Hercules forfeited his power to produce water and other things to the kingdom. Up to now, Achelous’s river in Greece is still flows along the fields that are fertile and productive for farming.

Regarding the choice the appearance of the main characters, Cornelis van Haarlem- the painter portrayed them as semi-Gods and Olympian Gods. They sometimes assume the form of a beast like Achelous and the human form. Semi- Gods are people with special abilities who have posse’s divine origin like Hercules. Their main characteristic that they had in common was the enormous natural strength. Moreover, they had the had special attributes such as being handsome, wise, strong, brave and with the ability to tasks that are beyond the scope of ordinary human beings. According to the mythology of the Greek, the will always be one benevolent hero who will eliminate the beasts and bad people (Wyssenbach 328).

A close look of Hercules, the hero as depicted by the artistic work, one can note that he is a typical example of virtue and intelligence. By allowing the horn to be offered, the hero Hercules demonstrates that is part of the gods that give fertility and euphoria. He had the audacity to oppose the river-god with his body. That signifies that the mighty human effort could tame the power of the river. The contest between Hercules and Achelous signifies the efforts of the antique Acarnanian people to come up with huge constructions for fencing the river banks. The “Amalthean Horn” represents the prosperity that the land enjoyed after the task of fencing had taken place. Nonetheless, (Achelous’ and Amalthea’s) horns have similarities because the river partly assists in the work of ground cultivation with aim of realizing prosperity. The victory of Hercules symbolizes superiority and strength of the human mind.

The significance that a river receives in Cornelis van Haarlem’s work of painting shows that the ancient communities worshipped rivers as their deity. The custom can be interpreted in different ways. Rivers served as fountains of life. Further, they also served as points of communication, and the economic hub of the human activities that support the native culture and population. Additionally, the rivers created a deeper sense of divine power. The Greeks of the ancient times gave different interpretations to rivers. A river that that was curvy was a reminder of the snake and the ability of the river ruin everything along its course and that was also synonymous with the bull’s image (Wyssenbach 328). For instance, the bull’s body and the strong man’s heart and the beard that was producing water and the forehead with horns signified the flow of the river. Achelous was the powerful god of the river and the offspring of Titheas in whose honor games were played in Acarnania.

The contest between Achelous and Hercules carried a monumental theme in most of the ancient pottery as well as the modern paintings like that of the Louvre and the New York museum. The theme is said to be in jewelry and coins. The forms were human beings that contained horns on their head, a bull with the head of a human being and the scary Tritonian form of a snake.

Controversies of the Cornelis van Haarlem, Hercules and Achelous

The painting about Hercules and Achelous was done by Cornelis van Haarlem. After hitting the headlines because of the appeal of the artistic work and the theme of the mythology, certain contestations about the painting arose. The painting Hercules and Achelous became subject of investigation and later confiscated by the Stasi- the former secret police if the East Germany.

The immediate owner of the portrait Hercules and Achelous that was originally done by Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem between 1562-1638, that shows Hercules beating the river god, are the Potschein family in Berlin (Wyssenbach 328). The family passed on 1976 and the present owner also took hold of it as an inheritance. Again, 1984, he was also disposed by another man who came as his friend but did not reveal his identity as Stasi’s secret agent. The agent of the state indicted the current owner of the painting of having evaded tax and that gave him sufficient grounds to confiscate the painting.

After seizing the portrait, he was also given pressure to make a donation of the portrait to the Berlin State Museums. After the falls of the Berlin wall in 1990, the owner of the portrait instituted legal proceedings for the restitution of the portrait. The litigation process took long but it was finally granted to the owner. The case was unique because the possible claimants Stasi confiscations are oblivious of their rights to the painting than even being a victim of the Holocaust occurrence.

The Attrubutes of Hercules

Hercules cuts a picture of someone who is determined regardless of the magnitude of the task ahead of him. He was very aware that to get Dejanira’s consent in marriage, he had to fight someone whose abilities were extraordinary. He does not give up, neither does he get scared that he may likely lose the fight and also lose the girl’s hand in marriage. Despite knowing that the Achelous had the ability to change from one dangerous form another, he still insisted on waging the war until he gets what he had set out to do. Therefore, his level of determination and forthright thinking cannot easily be matched.

Achelous is a good example of people in the society who allow pride to bring them down. The painter makes it clear that Achelous was an individual who liked to boast of his abilities and what he is capable of doing. He had all the strength to win the fight but his tactics and pride may have resulted to his eventual defeat despite having been touted as the front runner in that battle. When the crowd gasped when he turned into a fierce bull with two sharp horns, the crowed had given hope of Hercules winning the match. Therefore, the moral of the argument is that when someone has planned to do something, they should remain humble and execute their plans without trying to appear as they are only ones who have the ability to excel in that particular contest or event.

The artistic myths

A myth may be seen as a fictional account if events or a narration that is commonly made with figurative and symbolic elements. Therefore, it can be said that the myth that has fiction or true facts is just an endeavor of attempting to interpret the universe. They try to depict the forces that led to the formation of the world and the factors that can contribute to its fall. There are various reasons why people create myths or portraits that convey the message of a mythology story. One fundamental reason is the desire to provide answers to the issues that have been bothering an individual and left them with so many questions than answers regarding the grand nature of the universe. Therefore, the painters of the mythological stories remind people the things that they may have seen or tried to imagine somewhere.

Works Cited

Gellar-Goad, T. H. M., and John Bedingham. “Hercules the brute, Hercules the tactician in Steve Moore’s The Thracian Wars and the Knives of Kush comics.” Electra 3 (2014): 17-26..

Wyssenbach, Stefanie. “Riches of the Sea: Collecting and Consuming Frans Snijders’s Marine Market Paintings in the Southern Netherlands.” Sites of Mediation: Connected Histories of Places, Processes, and Objects in Europe and Beyond, 1450–1650 (2016): 328.

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