Emperor Heraclius Slays the King of Persia

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Emperor Heraclius Slays the King of Persia, 1460/80

Tempera and oil on panel
67.6 x 54.2 cm (26 5/8 x 21 5/16 in.); painted surface: 66.6 x 52.6 cm (26 1/4 x 20 7/8 in.)
George F. Harding Collection, 1990.561

This panel was probably part of an altarpiece dedicated to the Holy Cross, a relic that was much venerated in the Middle Ages. Through repeated retelling, its story took on some of the qualities of a chivalric romance. That story included the adventures of the Byzantine emperor Heraclius, who rescued the True Cross and returned it to Jerusalem after its capture by Chosroës, king of Persia.

Here Heraclius defeats a king who is probably meant to be the son of Chosroës. The emperor can be identified by the closed imperial crown that caps his helmet, the double-headed eagle symbol on the trumpet and the trappings of his followers’ horses, and the fact that he is about to behead his opponent. This exciting narrative provides an excuse for a vivid display of armor and weaponry.

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Publication History

Art Institute of Chicago Annual Report, 1990–91, p. 19.

Martha Wolff in Martha Wolff et al., Northern European and Spanish Paintings before 1600 in the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 2008, pp. 271-76, ill.

Ownership History

T. Schiff; sold, his estate sale, Hôtel Drouot, Paris, Mar. 21–22, 1905, nos. 15 and 18, as sixteenth-century Augsburg School, to Kleinberger along with two other panels from the same narrative cycle now in the Kunstmuseum Basel [annotated sale catalogue in the library of the Cleveland Museum of Art]. George F. Harding, Jr. (d. 1939), Chicago, by 1929 [the paintings were lent to the Art Institute by Harding in 1929; Registrar’s records]; bequeathed to the George F. Harding Museum, Chicago; ownership transferred to the AIC, 1982; accessioned, 1990.