Theseus and the Centaur

7:00 AM

Antonio Canova, Theseus and the Centaur, 1805

Reasons not to fight Theseus include: he fights mystical creatures with ease, he will absolutely beat anyone, and he fights naked. Otherwise, come at me.


Canova's piece captures the raw aspect of this battle, putting so much detail into the strain of the centaur's muscles and the dominant stance Theseus takes over him. There is a perfect triangle formed between the two, starting with Theseus's outstretched leg, continuing to his curly-haired, still-helmeted head, and ending with on the centaur's arm, pushing against the ground in a futile attempt to keep himself from being smashed into the ground.

The piece fascinates me much less because of the subject matter and more because of the interaction of the two bodies. They aren't intertwined, but there is so much connection between their two forms. Theseus has his foot firmly placed upon the centaur's leg as he shoves his knee into his ribcage, which is even sunken in from the pressure. His other hand grips the centaur's neck, making me feel even a bit out of breath. The real effect of the piece is that it feels all too real. It's not this "pretty" piece that you enjoy from afar and admire the technique, even though there is plenty. It draws the viewer in, making you feel all too close to their conflict.

I've actually never looked at Canova before. I am very glad to have remedied that, because I am rather blown away by his work. Sculptures do not capture my interest nearly as much as paintings do - not counting Bernini - but this one is both unsettling and intriguing at the same time. It is deeply human, rather than just a scene in marble. I am definitely a Canova fan now.

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