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.
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.
This is probably a demonstration piece showcasing the skill of the artist. The block stands alone and does not appear to be connected to any great work and in fact, we have no knowledge of any intended destination for the sculpture.
Michelangelo would have been aware of earlier relief works by Donatello and the stone reliefs of antiquity but this was a work that had no fifteenth-century comparison.
Is this image a man being crushed by a dying horse or the mythical half-man half-horse centaur?