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The Choice of Hercules

Photo credit: Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

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Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, retired to Naples in 1711 due to ill health and planned a second, illustrated edition of his philosophical works, 'Characteristicks'. For his treatise on the advantages of Virtue over Pleasure he commissioned an allegory of 'The Choice of Hercules' from Paolo de' Matteis. A talented pupil of Luca Giordano, de Matteis had studied in Rome and worked in France: his graceful classicism earned him high-ranking patronage. Annibale Carracci's 'Choice of Hercules' in the Palazzo Farnese was a source for the composition. Shaftesbury provided detailed instructions for the attitudes and expressions of the figures. Hercules must choose between the hedonistic life exemplified by Pleasure, or Vice, and the rocky path of Virtue.

The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology



The Choice of Hercules




oil on canvas


H 198.2 x W 256.5 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Purchased with the assistance of the Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund, the Art Fund, The Pilgrim Trust and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, (Blakiston, France, Bouch, Russell, Madan Funds), 1980

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The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology

Beaumont Street, Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 2PH England

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