Luca Giordano, painter and draughtsman, was one of the most celebrated artists of the Neapolitan Baroque School. Known as 'Fa Presto' ('works quickly'), he was a prolific painter whose vast output included altarpieces, mythological paintings and many decorative cycles in both palaces and churches. Giordano moved away from the darker tenebrism practiced by Caravaggio and his followers, assimilating instead the ideas of light and glowing color, movement and dramatic action of the 16th-century Venetian artists and the Roman master Pietro da Cortona.
The Battle of the Lapiths is a smaller version of a much larger painting by the artist (255 x 390 cm.) now in The Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, which is dated to circa 1685 (fig. 1). It depicts the battle between the Lapinths and the Centaurs. The Lapinths, a peace loving people of Thessaly, were celebrating the wedding of their King Pirithous to Hippodamia. The Centaurs were invited but soon began to misbehave. Giordano's composition vividly describes the ensuing brawl and shows the centaur Eurytus in the foreground of the painting, trying to carry off the bride. Drinking vessels, table legs and antlers served as weapons, and the Centaurs were finally driven away. In both ancient times and during the Renaissance the theme symbolized the victory of civilization over barbarism. To Giordano it seemed to represent a magnificent opportunity to show his mastery of light, color, proportion and movement.