Ballu considered the present model 'one of Barye's most masterful works and certainly one of the masterpieces of French sculpture' (op. cit
The heroic struggle between man and half-beast forms an idealised image in Barye's bronze. The strictly archaic Greek Theseus, his hair stylised and linear and legs planted firmly apart, makes a composed combatant for the more romantically conceived Minotaur. This contrast subtly underlines the triumph of good over evil. At the same time, the exaggerated musculature and contorted interaction of the figures lend homoerotic undertones to the composition. Such an interpretation of the subject finds a precedent in Antonio Canova's daring Theseus and the Minotaur
now in the Victoria and Albert Museum (inv. no. A.5-1962).
Barye based the figure of Theseus on a drawing by Henry Fuseli of an executioner which was taken in turn from a fresco of the Beheading of John the Baptist by Andrea del Sarto in the Monastero dello Scalzo, Florence. Further inspiration comes from a sheet of drawings of boxers by Géricault.
R. Ballu, L'Oeuvre de Barye, Paris, 1890, p. 91; G. Benge, Antoine-Louis Barye, Sculptor of Romantic Realism, Pennsylvania, 1984, pp. 116-118; M. Poletti and A. Richarme, Barye: Catalogue raisonné des sculptures, Paris, 2000, no. F31, pp. 106-107