Theseus Defeating the Centaur
Gypsotheca, Nineteenth century wing
This colossal piece was commissioned in 1804 for ten thousand zecchini by the Italian Republic to dedicate to Napoleon Bonaparte. Displayed in Canova’s studio in Rome, in 1821 it was purchased by Emperor Francesco I of Austria for the Theseustemple in the Volksgarrten in Vienna. Lastly, since 1891, it can be found it in the Kunsthistoriesches Museum in Vienna. The impressive piece represents the final moment of the fight between Theseus and Triton. The fearless man dominates the beast, he surmounts it, pressing his left hand on his throat while the right hand holds the powerful club (which is missing in the original plaster model), ready to be thrown to the enemy. Theseus knee presses on the victim’s chest, exactly where the man ends and the Centaur beings. The latter, who is collapsed on the ground, tries to gather his last energies in his posterior hooves and hopelessly searches for a point of strength in the ground, while his anterior hooves are no longer able to move. To best express the strain and muscle contraction, Canova resorted to numerous models and studies of anatomy. Emblematic is the artist’s decision to have a real horse killed to utilize its pose. By covering its body with plaster to create the cast he was able to execute the most realistic work he could.
● Inventory Number
Fondazione Canova onlus, Possagno (TV)
● Collection Date
Kunsthistoriesches Museum, Vienna (A)