The Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs
Oil on copper, 31 x 36 ¼ in. (79 x 92 cm)
Inscribed in paint on the verso: no. 22 Giordanz / No. 480
Private Collection, United Kingdom (“A Deceased Estate”), England;
their sale, Sotheby’s, London, April 21, 1993, lot 44, as Luca Giordano;
there purchased by Stanley Moss & Company, Riverdale, NY (1993-2017)
In Greek mythology Lapiths and Centaurs were tribes in ancient Thessaly – Lapiths human in appearance, Centaurs a race of half-human, half-horse creatures. Their legendary battle was occasioned by an invitation to the Centaurs to attend the wedding of the Lapith King Pirithous. At the wedding feast the Centaurs, unused to wine, became wild and belligerent, and attempted to carry off Hippodamia, the beautiful bride of the Lapith king. A great battle ensured, graphically described by Ovid (Metamorphoses XII, 210f). At the end of the bloody encounter the Centaurs were defeated and driven from Thessaly.
The subject of the Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs is best known from the series of relief sculptures carved on the Parthenon by Phidias and his workshop --these metopes forming part of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum. For the Greeks, and for those that followed, the conflict between the Lapiths and the Centaurs was emblematic of the struggle between man and his baser instincts, between civilization and chaos.
Giordano has chosen to focus on the central element of the battle, the abduction of Hippodamia by the Centaur Eurytion. She appears sprawled and struggling across the centaur’s withers as he attempts to restrain her, his right arm holding her left leg as he tightly grasps her right arm with his left. A Lapith warrior challenges Eurytion. This may be Theseus, whom Ovid places at the battle, a guest at the wedding. Beyond another Centaur warrior wielding a club and shield fights off armored Lapiths across an overturned banquet table, while wounded figures from both sides of the conflict litter the ground.
This large copper painting dates from the period of Giordano’s ten years in Spain, where he worked at the court of Charles II beginning in 1692. A pendant to The Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs depicting The Rape of the Sabine Women appeared at auction in 1993.[i]
Two larger compositionally diverse treatments of the subject on canvas are in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg, and in a private collection in Rome. [ii] These have been dated ca. 1682 and 1686, respectively.
[i] Oil on copper, 30 7/8 x 36 inches (78.5 x 91.5 cm), Sale, Sotheby’s Sussex, May 26, 1993, lot 793 (as by Luca Giordano).
[ii] See Oreste Ferrari and Giuseppe Scavizzi, Luca Giordano; l’opera completa. Naples 1992 cat. nos. A290, A414, II, figs. 397, 545.