The Laernean Hydra was a horrible seven-headed, venomous-blooded dragon. Her heads were snake-like. Her breath was poisonous too. Every time Hercules (Heracles) had one of these heads cut off, the Hydra grew a couple of new ones. The hero was helped by his friend Iolaus, who succeeded in promptly burning the bleeding necks each time Hercules cut off one of the Hydra's heads. One of these heads was anyway immortal: Hercules eventually buried it, with the Hydra's body, underneath an enormous rock.
This incredible, bizarre, precious vase depicting Hercules and the Hydra belonged to Ferdinando I, the Medici Grand Duke. It's made of twelve pieces of spanish jasper, pearls and rubies, and dates back to the 1580s. The jasper cutting is by the Saracchi family from Milan, whose “trade-mark” were dark decorative friezes and glazed metal rims.
The Hydra's heads are mounted on top of a gold, blue-enamelled scary mask. In the mask's open mouth we can see a diamond. The stone is set back-to-front, with the point facing outward: at that time it was more important to highlight the goldsmith's skills in cutting the diamond than the stone's sparkle and beauty.
In Florence’s magic Treasury of the Grand Dukes you can see an endless number of these valuables. Many cups, made of rock crystal and finely cut, were believed to be capable of changing colour if the drink poured inside was poisonous. You will discover these sorts of things and much more, touring Florence and the Treasury of the Grand Dukes alongside me, your expert Florence guide..!
Thanks to my friend and colleague ©Alessandro Sirigu for these beautiful pictures.