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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Hippodamia (The Centauromachy and Art II)

I'm not sure why Hippodamia's abduction by Centaurs is such a popular motif for artists -- just like I'm not sure why Leda and the Swan is even more so -- but this particular sculpture (at the National Gallery of Art) is one of my favorites.

I love the contrast between the grace of Hippodamia's form, all smooth lines and curves, and the emphasis on the Centaur's pure muscle mass, brutish and physically powerful. His shoulders ripple, his flanks and forequarters dimpled and defined. In comparison to Hippodamia, he's massive!

Unlike the centaur in the previous bronze (which was far more Art Deco in style) there isn't anything elfin about his features. Hollow-cheeked and thick-nosed, this centaur is rawly human. A man lost to madness, made all the more clear by the fallen amphorae, spilling wine beneath his hooves.

Hippodamia on the other hand, seems either to have fainted from the shock of her abduction, or else she's flopping like a fish to make herself as awkward to carry as possible. Generally, she's portrayed as helpless -- a damsel in distress. But I can't help but think it must have been more than wine which provoked the centaurs to kidnap one of their own. And I really have a hard time believing that a woman referred to as "kin" to the centaurs and tamer of horses would just give up without a fight.

If the centaurs are uncivilized, brutish and barbaric, how civilized was Hippodamia herself? Why should she have been anything less than wild (by Greek standards), as well?

Maybe that's why I like the myth of Hippodamia -- because there's so much potential there, to build a strong woman from the bare-bones account of her life. What's more, it strikes me as something of an untold story, because the depictions of Hippodamia tend toward the hysterical woman, despairingly throwing herself about while waiting to be rescued by her pirate-hero-king husband, Pirithous.

After all, no "ordinary" woman could really hope to cope with such an outrageous personality as Pirithous possesses, and I'm willing to bet he wouldn't want to be saddled with just any woman for a wife. Hippodamia must be something more, something greater, than what we're given to understand by these works of art, and that is definitely a story worth telling.


Photography in this post © me.


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2 comments:

  1. I clicked on the link. The piece is by Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse, possibly with Auguste Rodin

    Bill

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yup! The national gallery has a LOT of Rodin, actually. And this piece definitely has a Rodin feel to it, raw as it is. Thanks for stopping by.

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