Horses in Sculpture and Objet
Since ancient times, humans have found loyal companions and fellow warriors in horses. With their muscular bodies covered with a rustling mane and their majestic snorting, horses have inspired numerous artists from all over the world. And it wasn’t only their external beauty that inspired so many people but also the energy they hid within. A horse symbolizes so many things: determination and endurance, freedom and spirit. As one of the first objects of fine art, horses and their riders have been used in various sculptures, known as equestrian and equine statues.
Equestrian and Equine Sculpture
In sculpture, the term equestrian statue refers to a statue of a rider mounted on a horse. The sculptures of a horse without a rider are called equine statues. Even the greatest sculptors have found it difficult at times to render horses in stone or bronze. Finding the right balance spot and weight support is a technical problem, especially with statues of large dimensions. Among other things, this makes successful equestrian sculptures an immortal and majestic form of art.
Here are some of the most remarkable horse statues from across the world. These pieces of art showcase the beauty and history of horses in the most magnificent way.
The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius
Displaying the power of Rome, Roman sculpture contained a number of equestrian statues of emperors. Sadly, more than 20 pieces of bronze statues have been melted down over the following centuries and used for coins and church bells.
The only surviving example is the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius. Erected in around 175 AD in Rome, the only reason this statue survived was because of misidentification. Apparently, Marcus Aurelius was mistaken for the first Christian emperor, Constantine the Great.
In 1538 Pope Paul III relocated the statue to Capitoline Hill after Michelangelo’s redesign of the Hill. Made of bronze and standing 13.9 ft tall, today you can find the original sculpture displayed in the Capitoline Museums and its 1981 replica in the open air of the Piazza del Campidoglio.
Horses of Saint Mark
The Horses of Saint Mark, or the Triumphal Quadriga, is a sculpture of four Roman bronze horse statues. Today you can see the horses inside the Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice. Originally, they were located on the top of the basilica, in pairs above the central portal. Because of the increased air pollution, the horses were moved inside the church in the 1980s and replaced with replicas. Made of gilded copper, which has held up over time, the Triumphal Quadriga is among the most beautiful equine statues ever made.
In 1482, the Duke of Milan Ludovico il Moro commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to build a monument to Francesco Sforza, the duke's father. The clay model that was meant to be the largest horse statue in the world, approaching 26 ft in height, was destroyed before it could be cast with bronze.
However, sculptor Nina Akamu used Leonardo’s surviving designs to reproduce the statue. Nina put a lot of effort and dedication into the project. The final result was 2 equine statues costing approximately $ 2.5 million. One is located in Milan, Italy and the other in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Charles Ray's Two Horses
In 2020, The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that it had acquired the monumental sculptural relief Two Horses (2019) by American artist Charles Ray. This 10x14' granite relief depicts two horses in profile, one fully articulated and a second one behind it that's only partially revealed.
Sheena Wagstaff, Leonard A. Lauder Chairman of the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, says of the piece, "Charley has always worked against the grain. He invests these majestic horses with a strange, vivid 'alive-ness, a liveliness.' His choice of stone harks back to the moment of the earth's crust cooling after the explosive birth of the world, whose granite veins the horses share. They embody the miraculous process of animal form emerging from raw matter, compressing the origin of historic time and the present in one magnificent sculpture."
Still Water Horse Head Statue
In the busy streets of London, just a few minutes from Oxford Street, a giant bronze sculpture of a disembodied horse head provides a moment of silence for passengers. It’s sculpted by the British artist Nic Fiddian-Green who has a passion for the equine head. A graceful depiction of a horse drinking water in peace, this elegant piece of art truly represents the beauty of horses. With a height of 33 feet, Still Water is one of London's most-loved landmarks.
The biggest equine statue in the world can be found in Falkirk, Scotland. Standing 100 feet tall and weighing more than 300 tons each, the Kelpies are an engineering masterpiece. These impressive statues represent working horses that helped Falkirk’s society and economy. The name Kelpies comes from the Scottish mythological creatures that were shape-changing aquatic spirits. They were believed to lurk in rivers and waterways, taking different shapes, mainly the shape of horses. Being a magnificent view by day, they’re even more magical to see at night, lit in different colors.
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