The ceiling of the first hall of this palace is by Ludovico Caracci, in which Jupiter with the Eagle, and Hercules, are represented, and are in form, dignity of feature, and magnificence of character, finely suited to harmonize as a group. The muscular figure and gigantic bulk of Hercules is imposing, without extravagance; a perfect acquaintance with the human figure is displayed, with admirable foreshortening, and great skill and boldness in composition and execution. The artist’s know-ledge of anatomy is discoverable from his correct proportions and fine bendings, but is not obtruded on the eye by caricatured or forced lines. On the chimney-piece of the same room there is a piece by Augustine Caracci, representing Ceres with her torch in search of Proserpine; and in the back ground, the figures of the Rape of Proserpine by Pluto. This is not so fine a work. The story is not well told. The figures in the back ground are straggling, and too distinctly seen in the clear yellow of a pale sky. The ceiling of the second hall is by Hannibal Caracci, representing the Apotheosis of Hercules, received, after the end of his labours, into Heaven, and conducted by Virtue, who is leading the way. But here we find Hercules become much older, and without any portion of the dignity which characterized his features and aspect in the first painting, by the brother of this artist; the figure of Virtue is heavy; and her action, which seems to be that of pushing up with both hands a small round dark cloud, as if to gain admittance to Heaven, is ungraceful. Neither the invention nor composition of this piece is good: there is no aerial lightness, no delusion in the perspective; and the colouring is as flaming as if fresh from a brass-founder’s shop, the figures and sky having throughout a bright brazen tint. This painting is, however, mentioned as being a fine work; but (as I have already said) I have often had occasion to observe the imposing effect produced by a great name. The ceiling of the third hall, by Augustino Caracci, represents Hercules and Atlas supporting the globe. The two figures are not well grouped, but are standing opposed to each other in a sort of discontented humour, rather like rivals than mutual labourers. As academic figures, and as evincing skill in difficult foreshortening, the piece has great merit, although even this portion is not quite faultless, as the right limb of Atlas is bad, and the left thigh, which is raised in the air too long. The painting on the chimney-piece, by the same master, in which Hercules is re-presented holding down Cacus, and ready to pierce him with the sharp edge of his club, is rather a feeble production. The ceiling of the fourth hall is by Guercino. The subject represents Hercules strangling Antaeus. A superb piece, with fine deep-toned colouring, and wonderful power of chiaroscuro. The figure of Hercules is very grand, but seems to have occupied rather too much of the artist’s care. It is undoubtedly necessary to keep down the subordinate characters in a piece, but hardly so much as we find it in this group. Antaus is wanting in vigour; the resisting arm is not drawn with force or bulk corresponding to the action; neither are the figures sufficiently connected. The subject being to exhibit the choking of Antaeus by Hercules, the effect would have been heightened, and the act of struggling more power-fully expressed, had he been pressed home to the body of Hercules, and had the arms of the subdued figure been clasped in agony, in the tight grasp of his adversary. But the whole piece, although liable to these criticisms, is a work of great vigour, and unquestionable merit.
In one of the accompanying ornaments of the ceiling there is a beautiful little painting by Guercino, of Love (I think it should have been Ganymede) carrying off the spoils of Hercules, the skin of the Nemean lion, and the club. The motto under it is haec ad superos gloria pandit.”
There is also a very fine collection of pictures in the Marischalchi.