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Theseus Slaying the Centaur Bianor

The discovery of Pompeii in 1748 ignited interest in ancient Greek and Roman art and mythology throughout Europe. This fresco is part of a large wall painting found in a Pompeiian home.
Roman, Standing Deity Holding Horn and Bucket, 1st century A.D., fresco, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Rubin

Ancient Greek artists used idealized human forms to embody the qualities of perfection, strength, and power they so admired. Neoclassical artists of the 18th and 19th centuries found inspiration in those ancient ideals.
Greco-Roman, Torso of a Dancing Faun, 1st century A.D., marble, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Putnam Dana McMillan Fund

A strong and calm Theseus is a fine example of the Neoclassical style.

key idea
Greek Mythology Inspires European Art

The discovery of the ruined Roman cities of Herculaneum (her-cue-LANE-ee-um) and Pompeii (pom-PAY) in the 1700s caused a surge of interest in Greek and Roman mythology and classical art. This fascination with antiquity resulted in a new art style, called Neoclassicism (meaning “new classicism”). Artists working in the Neoclassical style used stories from Greek and Roman mythology as well as the ideal forms and figures of ancient art.

By the mid-1800s, when Antoine-Louis Barye created Theseus Slaying the Centaur Bianor, the theatrical and emotional style known as Romanticism had become popular. The excitement of a story’s turning point appealed to Romantic artists.

Barye’s large bronze sculpture is partly Neoclassical and partly Romantic. The mythological subject and the portrayal of Theseus as an ideal human being-powerful, beautiful, and calm in the face of danger-are Neoclassical. The choice of a dramatic moment-Theseus about to strike the struggling Centaur-is typical of Romanticism.

The emotion and drama typical of Romanticism are seen here at the height of the action.
September 2009