According to Ovid’s "Metamorphoses," a band of centaurs—fierce creatures, half man and half horse—were guests at the wedding of the Lapith king to the beautiful Hippodamia. When one of the centaurs saw the bride, he attempted to carry her off in drunken lust. Other centaurs followed suit and a bloody battle ensued. The battle between the Lapiths and the centaurs became a popular theme in Renaissance and Baroque art, symbolizing the triumph of civilization over barbarism.
The figure of Hippodamia is typical of Carrier-Belleuse’s sensuous female nudes, but the raw power of the heavily muscled centaur is quite uncharacteristic. Scholars have speculated that Auguste Rodin, then working in the master’s studio, participated in the execution of this sculpture. The energy of the group, as well as the overall monumentality and broad “molten” modeling of forms, relate closely to works by the young Rodin. The contorted poses of the figures in ""The Rape of Hippodamia"" recall another well-known depiction of a classical abduction: Giambologna’s dramatic "Rape of the Sabines" (also in the Cincinnati Art Museum collection). To suggest the events leading up to the climactic moment, Carrier-Belleuse included details like an overturned wine jar on the base of the sculpture and garlands on the figures' heads to signal the disastrously disrupted wedding festivities.