Masters of Mobility


8.2 The Hercules

First of all, in 1639 a rectangular basin of 143 x 89 metres was constructed, the so-called Herculesteich, as well as a semi-circular parterre, divided into four parts, with an octagonal pavilion in the middle. It was for the Herculesteich that Cornelis van Mander made his best-known work, a huge statue of Hercules slaying the Lernian dragon.1 In 1663 Olearius would describe the Herculesteich and the statue as follows: ‘in dessen Mitten der Hercules weit über Lebens Grösse auss Stein gehawen mit den 7. Köpflichen Drachen dessen enthauptete Hälse das Wasser hoch auffwerffen’.2 The Hercules is shown in the map of Schleswig that Johannes Mejer made in 1641.3 Remnants of the statue were found in the 1990s and are now on display in the cellars of Gottorf castle [4], while a reconstruction of the statue is erected in the Herculesteich itself [5]. The jets of water were meant to reach up to five metres high. On the four corners there were smaller fountains, sprouting from copper basins on pedestals of lead.4

Thus Cornelis must have witnessed the return of Adam Olearius in 1639, with the Persian envoy. His magnum opus, the Hercules statue, was completed in around 1640. In a drawing attributed to Jürgen Ovens, who worked for the duke between 1651 and 1657, we see the duke with the Hercules in the background [6].5 At the time many rulers, including Louis XIII of France and Gustav II Adolf, used Hercules as their ‘alter ego’ or ‘exemplum’. Hedwig Eleonora, the daughter of Friedrich III, Queen of Sweden, erected the Hercules statue by Adriaen de Vries, that had been looted in Prague in 1648, in the gardens of Drottningholm Castle near Stockholm.6

The Thirty Years’ War interrupted the activities in Schleswig. At some point Cornelis van Mander and his brother-in-law Giesbert/Gijsbrecht van Nijendael served in the army, Cornelis as Feldscher, which was both a barber and someone taking care of the wounded.

Cornelis van Mander
Hercules in a fight with Hydra, c. 1640
sandstone ? x ? cm
Gottorf, Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Schloss Gottorf

after Cornelis van Mander
Hercules in a fight with Hydra, 1995/1997
590 x ? cm
Gottorf, Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte Schloss Gottorf

Jürgen Ovens
Portrait of duke Friedrich III of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf (1597-1659) before the terrace garden, Neuwerkgarten, after 1659
paper, red chalk 173 x 130 mm
Bremen, Kunsthalle Bremen, inv./ 1696


1 Schulze 1997, p. 211-228; also Schulze 1995 and Schulze1995A; Schulze 1996; also: Gercke 2012, p. 121.

2 Cited in: Schulze 1996, p. 556-557.

3 Asmussen-Stratmann 2009, p. 14 (with ill.). The coloured map is in the Landesarchiv Schleswig-Holstein Abt. 402 A 20 Nr. 9). See also Schulze 1997, p. 214.

4 Asmussen-Stratmann 2009, p. 19.

5 Wittboldt 2003, p. 67. Kunsthalle Bremen, 414.

6 Asmussen-Stratmann 2009, p. 19-20; in the gardens of the summer residence of the counts of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderborg-Plön in Traventhal, there was another Hercules statue (Vollkommer 1987, note 41).

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