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The Battle of Centaurs by Michelangelo

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The Battle of Centaurs is a marble relief sculpture by Michelangelo from 1492 when he was only seventeen. Today it is housed at Casa Buonarroti, in Florence, Italy.

The subject seems to have been proposed by the poet Angelo Poliziano. The reference to the old Greek myth - the battle between the Centaurs and the Lapiths - taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses was just a pretext.
It's a classic composition inspired by the old Roman sarcophagi, but it’s a very free one in which the artist abandoned the traditional formulas.

This relief is not only a skill's test by the young apprentice, but it's also the culmination of the 15th century research about the nude and the start of a new concept of the body's plastic dynamism in the space.
Michelangelo didn't tell the story, neither did he reconstruct the mythological scene, but he wanted to represent a fierce battle between naked warriors of tense and powerful musculature.
The highlighted centre character is the pivot of the whole action. From his position with a raised right arm and twisted torso, a rotary motion is generated, which seems to drag all the other characters. It's the same movement that returner 50 years later, with The Last Judgment  with Christ as a judge in the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

The main protagonist is the human body expressing energy and movement, with twists, intertwinements and tangles in an endless battle. It's almost a metaphor of life. The space is not described: the little background that emerges is due to the empty spaces that separate one character from the other. But the background depth is reduced and in some points almost removed, nearly reaching the same level of the characters.
This work strikes in the way the characters fight: they not only stand one against the other, but it seems they want to be free from the matter that traps them using a very dramatic tone. The visible traces of the chisel, particularly in the wide top strip and in the deeper sections, render the fight even more obvious, with the characters that seem to emerge from the marble with difficulty. The struggle to emerge, the coming to life of the marble lifeless mass, become the very image of the artist's creativity.

The space is not empty but concrete and material. It's not separated from the characters that are mixed in that matter and that emerge only thanks to their power and interior energy.

A. Cocchi

Trad: A. Sturmer




E. Bernini, R. Rota Figura 1 Editori Laterza, Bari 2002
G. Cricco, F. Di teodoro Itinerario nell'arte. Vol 2, 2000
G.C. Argan, B. Contardi in: Michelangelo Dossier Art n. 9 Giunti, Firenze
C. Alchidini Luchinat, E. Capretti, K. Weil-Garris Brandt Michelangelo. Gli anni giovanili. Dossier Art n. 150 Giunti, Firenze


Tags:Alessandra Cocchi, A. Sturmer, Michelangelo, relief, sculpur, Renaissance, battle, centaur, .


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Michelangelo. The Battle of Centaurs. 1492. Marble relief. Florence, Casa Buonarroti


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