Eugenio Lucas Velázquez
Madrid 1817 – 1870
Battle of the Lapiths and the Centaurs
oil on copper
14 x 18 ½ inches
35.5 x 47 cm
In the Battle of the Lapiths and the Centaurs, the centaurs ran amok when the centaur Eurytus tried to abduct Hippodamia, the wife of the Lapith Pirothous, at their wedding feast. The centaurs were then defeated by Pirothous’ friend Theseus. This was a favorite subject in Greek art, where it was called a ‘Centauromachia’ and formed the subject of an early marble relief by Michelangelo in the antique style.
On the walls of the vast and cavernous chamber are depictions of other scenes of violence and strife, identified from left to right as Hercules and Antaeus, Hercules and the Nemean Lion, the Fall of the Giants, Hercules and the Hydra, the Death of Niobe and her children, and the Flaying of Marsyas. The picture on the far left is hard to identify since it is only partially visible. The Hercules and Antaeus derives from an ancient roman marble located in the Pitti Palace, Florence from the mid-16th century that was widely known and admired. Centaurs were descended from Apollo and also the giant Ixion, which may account for this subject matter. The father of the centaurs, Centaurus, was the twin brother of Lapithes, ancestor of the Lapiths. The treatment of this subject in an indoor setting loosely modeled on 17th-century Flemish gallery scenes is unusual, if not unique.
Professor Andrew Ginger believes that it is an important work by Eugenio Lucas , an attribution made on several counts: its style and composition; the role of pastiche; the relationship of the background to the foreground; and thematic elements concerning art and violence. The playful anachronism is typical of Lucas, and shows his ability to bring in elements from different schools across history – recalling the chaos and turbulence in late Goyas, as well as the mythological violence of Delacroix and the French Romantics. The interplay between painted works in the background and real action alludes to Velázquez in its invitation to reflect on the relationship between the history of art and representation. ❖
Private collection, Paris