That a teenager, Michelangelo was seventeen when he produced this work, could execute such a sophisticated piece of sculpture is remarkable. The Battle of the Centaurs is a writhing mass of figures three-dimensionally carved into a marble block. The figures are layered in overlapping positions adding to the spatial depth of the work.
Michelangelo has created a scene of utter mayhem with the
array of swirling figures locked in combat. The Battle of the Centaurs is perhaps
based on a Roman myth related by the texts of Homer and Ovid focusing on the
war between Centaurs and Lapiths. Michelangelo has portrayed the fight on a marble
block in relief. In Greek mythology the Lapiths were an Aeolian tribe who
battled with the Centaurs after a feisty wedding ceremony in which the drunken
Centaurs attempted to kidnap the women, including the bride.
We can see the artists interest in the massive bulk of the naked male form, a theme that would serve Michelangelo well in future commissions, including his work in the Sistine Chapel. That the sculpture has an unfinished roughness adds to the overall mystery as we seek to make sense of the intertwining human narrative emerging from the stone.