This engraving is the frontispiece to Giovanni Battista Bertani’s commentary on writings by the ancient Roman architect, Vitruvius. Gli oscuri e difficili passi dell’opera ionica di Vitruvio, published in 1558, is dedicated to Cardinal Ercole Gonzaga of Mantua, whose coat of arms is included in the border above the head of Hercules. The subject of the print is therefore a pun on the name Ercole, the Italian form of Hercules.
Ghisi was a reproductive engraver, that is, he reproduced images designed by others. Some artists made drawings explicitly to be translated into prints by proficient printmakers. Painters also developed close working relationships with printmakers to reproduce their painted compositions. This began in the sixteenth century and increased steadily, particularly through the eighteenth century. Artists understood their designs could be dispersed to a much broader public through prints, an art based on multiples, in comparison to the number of paintings they produce.