Printed in negative this photograph can be described as a partial double exposure in that only the middle section has been exposed twice. Here two overlapping exposures representing different perspectives of the same figure merge in the middle creating a doubled, dual, or commingled figure. The material subject of the image is a slightly smaller than life-size head of a statue (c.500 BCE) representing either Omphale or Herakles, or perhaps both.
What we know about these two related identities differs greatly. More widely known, Herakles has historically symbolised (in the Western Tradition) physical strength and invulnerability. More contemporary readings position him as a symbol of outmoded hyper-masculinity. Very little is known of Omphale, she remains buried in history, but she and her story have contemporary social resonance. What little we do know of Omphale comes down to us through Greek mythology in which she is identified as a powerful queen of the Lydian empire and slave owner of Herakles. The story of his enslavement to Omphale revolves around her insistence on an exchange of their garments and gendered roles. Relayed through various media since antiquity the story reveals that having murdered his friend Iphitos, Herakles was decreed by the Delphic Oracle to spend three years as Omphale 's slave. For the duration he wears only women's clothes and performs women's work while Omphale, wearing his lion skin, takes possession of his olivewood club and engages in men's activities like hunting.
The limestone head was acquired for the collection of the National Archaeological Museum Athens in 1899 (Inv. No. 1738). It is one of the Museum's earliest acquisitions. At the time it was catalogued as a representation of Omphale. Today archaeologists more commonly consider it a representation of Herakles however differing perspectives continue in recent attributions.