Hercules and Nessus

Artist: Annibale Fontana (Italian, 1540–1587)

Date: before 1584

Culture: Italian, Milan

Medium: Rock crystal; gold and champlevé enamel frame

Dimensions: H. 3-1/16 x W. 4-1/16 in. (7.8 x 10.3 cm)

Classification: Natural Substances-Rock Crystal

Credit Line: The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931

Accession Number: 32.100.237


One of the major glyptic artists working in Milan during the second half of the sixteenth century, Fontana engraved exquisitely luminous Late Mannerist scenes from classical mythology and biblical subjects in rock crystal. A casket, set with Fontana's rock-crystal plaques and made for Albrecht V, duke of Bavaria (r. 1550–79), can still to be seen in the Schatzkammer of the Munich Residenz. The Metropolitan Museum's medallion is one of a series of six surviving rock crystals engraved with episodes from the story of Hercules; the medallions were removed from a casket, now destroyed, that once belonged to the Gonzaga duke of Mantua, Vincenzo I (r. 1587–1612). The casket, ornamented with gold and pearls, would have been highly valued as a splendid example of Milanese goldsmiths' work, as well as of intaglio engraving.