In Greek mythology, Hercules was endowed with superhuman strength, courage, and ingenuity. When the hero entered the service of the Mycenaean king Eurystheus, he was commanded to complete twelve labours. The first of these was to kill the Nemean lion, a dangerous and seemingly invincible beast. It lived in a cave in Nemea in Argolis. Hercules first tried in vain to shoot the lion with arrows, not knowing that its skin was impenetrable. He then discovered that the cave had two entrances. He blocked one of the entrances and entered the cave through the second. He stunned the beast with a club and strangled it with his bare hands. Hercules then skinned the lion and wore the skin like armour.
The works of Giovanni Bonazza are known for their movement, with an emphasis on the line and light. His figures, however, are soft and elegant, without losing any of their power. This impressive marble sculpture shows Hercules standing astride the beast trying to strangle it. We are witness to a fierce struggle between the animal and the invincible demigod. Hercules wrenches open the lion’s mouth, forcefully pulling out its tongue. The lion fiercely defends itself, rending Hercules’ robe that winds loosely around his hips. We see Hercules’ focused look of determination and the beast’s painful grimace as it realises that it is weakening.