Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014
Antiope and Theseus
A bronze group of a tall nude male figure and a nude female figure, the male supported by a stunted leafy branch rising between his feet and clasping the female figure in his arms, she holds a bow in her right hand.
The Dutch-born sculptor Adriaen de Vries was trained in the workshop of the great Florentine master Giovanni Bologna (Giambologna; 1529-1608) and travelled between several of the major courts of Europe. His best-known works were the colossal outdoor groups and fountains in Augsburg, Prague, and Frederiksborg in Denmark. Many of his compositions share the elongated proportions and sense of upward movement that are strongly evident in this piece.
From Giambologna onwards, subjects involving male figures carrying off females were regarded as particularly suitable for contrasting types of figures which could be viewed in the round. The identity of these two is by no means certain, but they are generally thought to represent Theseus, legendary King of Athens, abducting Antiope, Queen of the Amazons. This subject epitomises the battle of the sexes, although in this case the conflict ended unusually harmoniously in marriage. De Vries used an almost identical composition in his more widely known and repeated group of Hercules, Nessus and Deianira of 1603-08 (Paris, Louvre), where the space between the male figure's widely spaced legs is occupied by the defeated centaur, Nessus, instead of the stunted plant included here. This element, contrasting with high finish of the figures, clearly played a part in the casting of the group, upside-down and in one 'pour' from the original wax model; the plant would have served as a vent to allow air to escape as the molten bronze entered the mould.
The attribution of the Theseus and Antiope group to De Vries has recently been strengthened by detailed scientific examination of the bronze (including X-ray photography) in preparation for the major exhibition of the sculptor's work in 1998-2000. Nevertheless, it remains unclear precisely when the group was made and for whom. The unusual form of signature (a monogram AF), recalling that of Albrecht Dürer, also appears on the relief tablets of De Vries's Hercules fountain in Augsburg (1597-1602).
Catalogue entry from Royal Treasures, A Golden Jubilee Celebration, London 2002