Giovanni Battista Cima da Conegliano - inv. d.t. 55
The painting shows the Athenian hero in the act of killing the Minotaur inside the Labyrinth. The depiction of the Cretan monster with a bull’s body and a human head and not, as in the legend, with a bull’s head and human body, is decidedly unusual. It is not, though, a unique case: we find the same iconography in a miniature by Benedetto Bordon (Florence, Biblioteca Laurenziana) for example, which precedes Cima’s painting by about twenty years. Furthermore, the way the artist has solved the problem of depicting the struggle inside the prison of the Minotaur is also interesting: the device of the broken wall, on the left, discloses the scene. The Labyrinth is imagined as a construction of concentric, or spiral, circles under the open sky.
Recently restored, the painting is of high quality. Taking his inspiration from classical models, Cima successfully shows the movement of the figures in the excitement of the fight: Theseus springs forwards with his sword raised to pierce the Minotaur yet again; the beast turns its head backwards with a sudden jerk (one of the most successful inventions in the painting), emphasised by his ruffled hair. The use of natural light, in warm tones, is characteristic of Cima’s mature period, which develops Giovanni Bellini’s naturalistic lesson in an original way.
The panel probably belonged to the same cycle, decorating a chest or bed-head, as the Marriage of Bacchus and Ariane, also in the Poldi Pezzoli Museum. Both works can probably be dated to around 1505.