Minerva & the Centuar

For this month's Art in Focus I'm taking a dive into a piece from last year's Botticelli exhibit at the MFA Boston.

Here, our subject is Sandro Botticelli's Minerva and the Centuar: a struggle for power. 

Minerva stands on a ledge above the Centaur, halberd in her left hand as she firmly entangles the centaur’s hair in her fingers as she starts to take a dominant hold.

She is turned towards him so that we can see a three-quarter profile, and the Centaur's contorted face is in full view.

His left arm reaches up, towards his right shoulder as he shies away from her grasp, his right arm limply grasping his bow.

And an angular, rocky outcropping rises behind him making the eye travel around the painting in a circle. 

You are first drawn in by the sharp point and height of the halberd, the eye follows it down to Minerva traveling across her right arm to the Centaur and back up the rocks.

Only after this circuit, do you notice the serene landscape behind them, a harbor with a ship can be seen between the two figures, and mountains edge the far reaches of the horizon.

So what?

So, Minerva — the Roman equivalent of Athena, goddess of war, wisdom, etc.

We totally get that she’s powerful with that halberd and the clearly uncomfortable hair grasp she’s inflicting on the poor Centaur.

He’s standing just below her, and backed up against a rock with no where to go.

Clear exertion of dominance, right?

Let’s take a closer look.

True, Minerva stands above the Centaur, which usually indicates power and importance.

However, her hold on the halberd is lack, and the more dangerous part of the weapon, the axe, is turned away from the Centaur.

Furthermore, the Centaur is standing against a strong, angular rock, while a sad, broken fence haphazardly stands behind Minerva.

Not so intimidating anymore, is she?

While this struggle for power is perplexing, the parallels of the two figures make the balance of power all the more intriguing.

Both figures share the same stance, full weight on the right leg while their left heel is raised off the ground.  

Their arms also share similarities in positioning, with their outside arms framing the image as they lightly hold onto their weapons, and their inside arms crooked as they both reach upwards.

And lastly— the small ship in the harbor that rests in between their bodies seems to signal for something else in this scene.

Does it indicate a safe harbor for the Centaur, a forfeit of power, or hope for the future?

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