In Greek tradition, a centaur is a member of a combined race of creatures which are partly humans and partly horses. In ancient paintings and pieces of art, they were portrayed with the back of a horse attached to them. In later presentations, centaurs were given the torso of a human being attached to the waist with the horse’s withers in place of the neck. Many authors have treated this work of art as liminal beings, caught between the two natures because of being a half human and half animal composition. This paper will seek to look into the Bronze Man and Centaur piece of art and discuss all the aspects of this art masterpieces.
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There are several theories that seek to explain the origin of centaurs. One of them says that centaurs originated from the first of a non-riding cultures and nomads who were fixed on horses. The speculation suggests that such riders would appear as half man, half animal. Greek authors described the Lapith tribe of Thessaly as the centaur’s kinsmen in myths and inventors of horse riding. The statuette of the bronze man and centaur is believed to be crafted in the mid 8th century BC and is thought to have originated from Olympia, Greece (The History of Greece, 2011). Though the artist who crafted it is unknown, it is thought to have been made during the geomantic art period. It is a part of Greek art that was illustrated by geometric motifs in vase painting. This phase thrived towards the end of the Greek dark ages. The art work was purchased on the art market in Paris by Morgan Pierpont in 1906 and was later given to the Metropolitan museum of art in 1917 (Kleiner, 2009. p.89). Half man, half horse centaurs were believed to have lived in remote wooden areas. They appear to be in contest with humans in many of Greek art. They are implied to be the converse of civilized men. Centaurs are mainly represented in metopes of the Parthenon in Athens. The Greek bronze statuette also represents the man and centaur. The result of the combat between the centaur and humans is depicted by the spear preserved in the centaur’s left flank. The greater height of the man in the statuette also represents this conflict (The History of Greece, 2011).
This piece of art brings out many aspects of art that existed during geometric art period in ancient Greece. For instance, the well designed simplicity and economy of geometric art is manifested in the small bronze statuette which represents a man confronting a centaur. The ancient artist responsible for crafting the statuette presented the pair of figures as essential geometric forms (The History of Greece, 2011). Studying the piece of art, the man in the statuette is more of a slightly embellished vertical line. The centaur is fundamentally a rhythmic arrangement of vertical and horizontal shapes. A harmonious and pleasant appearance of this piece of art is achieved by a perfect combination of the vertical and horizontal elements. While the meaning of this piece remains puzzling, it is evident that the statuette is visually appealing. From the artistic point of view, it is evident that the man is intermingling with the centaur. This has been a source of heated debate as authors have tried to evaluate whether this is a peaceful or aggressive interaction (The History of Greece, 2011). Some authors have suggested that the man and centaur are embracing each other in a friendly manner. From this, it is possible to make a suggestion that the piece of art was meant to symbolize the mythical duo – Chiron, the centaur, and Achilles, the man. The other possible interpretation is that the centaur and the man are represented in combat. Therefore, they could be performing a famous scene from the Greek myth where the hero Heracles confronts the cruel centaur Nessos.