This painting illustrates a passage from Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’, specifically from the section ‘Cyllarus and Hylonome’ in the 12th book. Here, Ovid tells the story of two Centaurs, Cyllarus and Hylonome, acting as a digression in the midst of the narration of the Battle of the Lapiths and the Centaurs. Indeed, this story of ill-fated lovers is given by Ovid between the bloody battle scenes of the epic battle. Here, we see the instance shortly after Cyllarus is struck by a javelin during the battle. The bloodied javelin lies at the feet of the pair as Cyllarus writhes in pain from the unexpected blow.
A translation of Ovid’a passage that depicts both of these character’s deaths;
‘A javelin (who threw it is unknown) came from the left and took you, Cyllarus, below the place where the chest swells to the neck. When the weapon was withdrawn the heart, though only slightly pierced, grew cold with the whole body. Immediately Hylonome clasped the dying limbs, sealed the wound with her hand, placed her mouth on his, and tried to prevent the passage of his spirit. Seeing he was dead, with words that the noise prevented from reaching my ears, she threw herself onto the spear that had pierced him, embracing her husband in dying.’
Doris Clare Zinkeisen was a Scottish theatrical stage and costume designer, painter, commercial artist and writer. Zinkeisen’s realist style made her popular as a portraitist and she became a well-known society painter. Zinkeisen illustrated several commercial posters for railways and the London Underground. She was famously known for painting the murals on the luxury ocean liner, the RMS Queen Mary.
Her sister, Anna, was also a painter and both have works in many museums.
Doris Zinkeisen was perhaps best known for her work in the theatre producing various costumes and set designs. Early in her career, artist Doris Clare Zinkeisen met the esteemed actor and theatre manager Nigel Playfair, leading to her interest in this sphere of the arts. Zinkeisen created portraits of several actors, and she designed the scenery and costumes for Noel Coward’s musical, On with the Dance. A similar theatricality can certainly be seen here in the composition and artistic choices that have been made with this work.
Doris Zinkeisen was also well-known for her equine paintings, an interest triggered by her own enduring involvement and expertise as an award-winning horsewoman. Here, Zinkeisen’s knowledge of the equine form is clear – the accurate proportions of the centaurs give the mythical creatures a realistic quality despite their overly dramatic poses and fictional origins.