Barberini Hera


Title: Barberini Hera
Location: The Vatican Museums
Medium: Marble

Now, to tell the story of Zeus’s counterpart and queen of the gods Hera. Like Zeus, Hera was born of Rhea and Cronus. However, unlike Zeus, Hera did not escape being swallowed by her father Cronus. Then after being vomited from her father’s mouth, Hera joined forces with her brother and grandmother to overthrow her father and the titans. After this great war was over Hera eventually became the wife of the king of the gods, her brother, Zeus. She bore many children to this relationship including Ares, Hebe, and Eileithyia.

Yet this does not paint the entire picture of Hera. In order to fully understand Hera one needs to look no further than to the writings of Virgil. Virgil in his Aeneid paints a different picture of Hera. Although Hera is queen of the gods, Virgil portrays her as merely the wife of Zeus. She is no higher than the other gods because at the end of the day she still bows down to the power of her husband; the king of the gods. In the Aeneid, Virgil reveals Hera as a spiteful, vengeful, irrational woman. Hera brings her wrath against Troy after being told by Paris that she is less beautiful than Venus. Yet, when Hera learns of the escape of Aeneas she turns her wrath towards him, which places her in direct opposition to Zeus. Zeus had previously promised his daughter, Venus, that her son, Aeneas, would be the father of the Romans. This does not stop Hera, however, who plots in every way to stop Aeneas from fathering the Romans. Zeus becomes angered with Hera in the end and commands her to stop her meddling. To this order Hera eventually submits, after inflicting much turmoil, and joins her husband. Virgil paints a striking picture of Hera that is contrary to the popular belief about her. This is the Hera that, I believe, the creator of the Barberini Hera attempted to portray in the sculpture.

While looking at the Barberini Hera one is struck by the image of this sad and sorrowful, yet, spiteful Hera. The feature that sticks out the most in the bust are Hera’s eyes. The eyes seem to droop as in some great feeling of sorrow or sadness. Even the eyebrows droop as if to accentuate the emotion being conveyed by the eyes. Hera’s eyes seem to portray a defeated woman, perhaps one that has just given in to her husband’s wishes about Aeneas. Unlike Zeus’s eyes, Hera’s eyes do not seem to see all, but instead seem clouded by her own spite and ambition. Yet the Barberini Hera does not only capture this submissive Hera. The sculpture through the hair, lips, and even eyes of Hera reveals the vengeful plotting side of Hera. To me there seems to also be an air about the sculpture that Hera, though defeated, will always plot and scheme to her own benefit. One thing can be known for sure; whatever the expression conveys, the artist indeed sculpted the true mythological Hera.

Virgil’s Aeneid


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