The bronze statuette of a centaur in stride, with his head tilted up—raised and alert—and right arm extended holding a club or branch (?) was most likely part of a large vessel. The flat and narrow base of the centaur is curved and broken at both ends, suggesting that the centaur comes from the rim of a large cauldron or a tripod stand. The rim or stand would have been decorated with other mischwesen (composite creatures) like the cauldron in the Cyprus Museum and the tripod in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Unlike later representations, this type of centaur—fully human in front encumbered with half a horse in the rear—was by far the most common combination in Geometric and Archaic Greek Art. In classical and later representations, centaurs are consistently depicted with four equine legs.
The mythological wild breed of centaurs, who traditionally inhabited the forested mountains of Arcadia and the slopes of Mount Pelion in Thessaly, have occupied a place in the imagination of humankind from their first appearance in Greek art and literature in the 8th century B.C. A hybrid creature consisting of the head, arms, and torso of a man joined to the body and legs of a horse, this primitive tribe of “human animals,” characterized by their insatiable appetite for wine and food, as well as sexual encounters, continues to fascinate. Described by Sophocles as “rude, lawless, savage, unapproachable, unmatched in might,” centaurs were also admired for their bravery and known for their willingness to fight for what they wanted. This magnificent bronze figure of a centaur embodies many of these characteristics and seems to be the largest known example to have survived from the Archaic Greek period.
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Kyoto, Japan, Miho Museum, The Archaic Smile, (Exhibition 14 July - 19 August 2007).
M. Padgett, The Centaur’s Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art (Princeton University Art Museum Exhibition Catalogue, New Haven and London 2003), p. 12. Fig. 8.