Centaurs, beasts half-man, half-horse, had a long history in Greek (and Roman) art, appearing already by the late Mycenaean Period. Mythology informs that they are lustful and over-fond of wine (Hanfmann and Pollard, "Centaurs" in The Oxford Classical Dictionary, p. 220). In Greek art their barbaric side is most often the subject of choice, in particular the battle against the Lapiths, and against Herakles. It is not until the Hellenistic period that centaurs come to be regularly associated with Dionysus, and it is in this context that they are often shown displaying their musical talents.
Our centaur, a late Hellenistic confection, seems based on earlier Hellenistic prototypes. The fine modeling, the torsion, the expressive face and the unruly hair all find parallels in Pergamene art of the late 3rd and early 2nd century B.C. Indeed, three fragmentary centaurs and the rump of a horse, possibly also a centaur, were excavated in the Pergamene Asklepeion. They continued to be popular with the Romans, as can be seen by the two pair from the Villa of Poppea at Oplontis, pl. 162 in Ridgway, Hellenistic Sculpture I. The equine portion of our centaur also finds parallels in the famous bronzes from Herculaneum, one depicting Alexander the Great on horseback, one depicting an Amazon, and the third probably missing its rider, nos. 21-23 in Stewart, Faces of Power. All share the same rearing pose and the naturalistic modeling, in particular the observation of the folds of skin along the bent legs. And, like the Herculaneum bronzes, our centaur must also have had an angled support joined to the underside just behind the forelegs, where there is a rectangular mortise.