Battle of the Centaurs

Battle of the Centaurs
Artist Michelangelo
Year c. 1492
Medium Marble
Location Casa Buonarroti in Florence, Italy
Dimensions 33.3 in × 35.6 in
84.5 cm × 90.5 cm

The Battle of the Centaurs is an incomplete marble sculpture created by the Italian Renaissance artist, Michelangelo, in 1492. After being moved by the story of the mythical battle between Lapiths and the Centaurus, as told to him by the scholar and poet, Poliziano, Michelangelo was inspired to create the marble depiction.

This sculpture was remarkable in the fact that it was the forerunner to Michelangelo’s future carvings from the then singular planes to three dimensional. This was also the first of Michelangelo’s sculptures that was created without his using a bow drill and also the first to obtain such a state of completion with his using of a pointed chisel. It is unknown if Michelangelo intentionally left the sculpture unfinished or if he meant to someday finish the masterpiece. Yet it remains significant in the tradition of unfinished sculpting for this reason and is regarded by the artist himself as one of his best early works and as an excellent visual reminder of why he should have focused his talents on sculpting.

Michelangelo was just seventeen and working under the tutelage of Lorenzo de’ Medici when The Battle of the Centaurs was carved. The sculpture was created for himself rather than being solicited. The sculptor portrayed the then current fashion for recreating age-old subject matter. Michelangelo was particularly inspired by a bronze relief by Bertoldo di Giovanni that hung in the Medici home. He chose less expensive marble to keep costs at a minimum.

The Battle of the Centaurs portrays the battle between the Centaurs and the Lapiths during the wedding of the king of Lapiths to Hippodamia. King Pirithous, wanting to show his good intentions towards the Centaurs, extends his invitations to the neighboring and long-time clashing Centaurs. Some of the Centaurs were overly intoxicated were immediately aroused when the bride was presented to the guests. In their intoxicated state of arousal some of the Centaurs jumped to their feet and tried to carry Hippodamia away. This naturally ensued a year-long battle until finally the Centaurs were exiled.

The mythological battle between the Centaurs and the Lapiths as it was symbolic of the great conflict between the organization and disorder and even more specifically between the Greeks and savage Barbarians.