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Piero di Cosimo, The Fight between the Lapiths and the Centaurs

Key facts
Full title The Fight between the Lapiths and the Centaurs
Artist Piero di Cosimo
Artist dates 1462 - 1522
Date made probably 1500-15
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 71 × 260 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Charles Haslewood Shannon, 1937
Inventory number NG4890
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
The Fight between the Lapiths and the Centaurs
Piero di Cosimo

The brutal fight between the Lapiths and the centaurs, as described by the first-century Roman poet Ovid in his Metamorphoses, is displayed on this panel. The story starts with the wedding feast of Pirithous, King of the Lapiths. During the celebrations, the centaur Eurytion, drunk and possessed by lust, seized the bride by her hair.

Piero di Cosimo has actually relegated this scene to the right, showing the bride partially naked in a blue robe with the centaur grabbing her hair. All the commotion seems superfluous to the centaur couple embracing in the middle of the composition. In Ovid’s story these figures are secondary, but Piero di Cosimo has centred them, capturing a tender moment amid the violent commotion.

This picture was probably made as a spalliera panel, which would be set into wall panelling, and commissioned around the time of a young Florentine couple’s marriage. Displayed in the husband’s camera (chamber) in their family palace, Piero’s painting would have warned the couple how not to behave.

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