Analyze of Theseus, Slayer of the Minotaur,

Theseus is emphasized in several ways. There is a great deal of space around him and he is not overlapped by any other figures.

His dark body is set against the light background of the tower behind him, allowing him to stand out more prominently than any other figure in the painting.

The painter also uses light to highlight and emphasize Theseus' body. In many ways Theseus looks like a bronze statue with light glancing off its surfaces. Elaborate on the sculptural allusion inherent in the presentation of Theseus.

Theseus is also emphasized by his attire, or lack of it you might joke. The nudity of Theseus is actually a costume that identifies his status. Nudity is the attire of gods and heroes. As a hero, Theseus is depicted nude. The contrast is not between nude and clothed figures, but between heroic and non-heroic figures. Even though the child kissing the hand of Theseus is largely nude, it wears an ample mantle and should not be considered nude. It is a human Athenian child.


There are two additional compositional devices that emphasize Theseus. First, he is framed by two arch-shaped elements that underscore his centrality in the painting. The arched doorway at the left into which the dead Minotaur recedes is balanced by an arched-shaped grouping of onlookers at the right. The architectural arch and the arch-shaped grouping complement each other, anchor the edges of the painting, and emphasize the central figure.



And second, attention is drawn to the face of Theseus by the arrow (or triangular form) whose apex coincides with his face.


We can therefore conclude that the mythological and compositional center of the painting is Theseus. We have read the obvious signposts left by the painter and in the process have examined the way in which the painter organized the scene.

Let's push the analysis in another direction.

While my eye concludes that Theseus is the compositional and thematic center of the painting and therefore its most important figure, my mind contends that there is another much more important and interesting figure in the painting.

Once again, the painter has been quite clear in leading us to another figure. Before continuing, renew your analysis and point out the additional devices of the painter and the additional meanings that we are encouraged to find. Then go on.

Click here to continue.

Go back to the beginning of the exercise.


Copyright 1998 by John J. Dobbins, all rights reserved
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Last Modified: Tuesday, 30-March-98 12:00:00 EDT