The Abduction of Hippodameia by the French sculptor Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse (1824-1887) infuses a classical subject with violent emotion, sensuality, and raw animal power.
The subject comes from Greek mythology: At the wedding of the maiden Hippodameia and her suitor Pelops, the wild centaurs who had been invited to the celebration became drunk and unruly, attacking their hosts and the other guests. Eventually, the centaurs were subdued, and order restored.
Carrier-Belleuse depicts the brutal domination of the rearing man-beast clutching the limp body of the hapless bride through a complex, open composition of cross-angles and twisting forms. The theme was often featured in antiquity, as seen in the architectural sculptures at the great Temple of Zeus at Olympia (site of the original Olympics) and at the Parthenon in Athens. Carrier-Belleuse's interpretation focuses on the bestiality of animal desire.
The French sculptor was one of the most prolific of his era, producing portrait busts, decorative works, and monuments. His works often combine realism, passion, and a neo-Baroque exuberance, while reacting against the emotional restraint of neoclassicism. A success at the Salon exhibitions, he was especially well-regarded as a teacher, with pupils such as AimÈ-Jules Dalou and the most famous sculptor of the later nineteenth century, Auguste Rodin.
It has been justifiably suggested that The Abduction of Hippodameia owes much to the involvement of the young Rodin, who is said to have worked on the sculpture model in his master's absence. Similarities in the power of the centaur's boldly rippling musculature (unusual in Carrier-Belleuse's work) and screaming face can be seen in Rodin's Vase of the Titans and The Call to Arms of 1878.