Horses have been an integral part of society ever since they were first domesticated. The horse has allowed for society to grow in ways that would have otherwise been impossible. Since their domestication around 3500 BCE, the relationship between man and horse has been one unlike any other. Equestrian portraits are seen often in history as a way to commemorate people of history. This gallery explores some of the different ways that horses are portrayed in art and to what effect.
Equestrian Portrait of Stanislaw Kostka Potocki - This portrait of Count Stanislaw Potocki was painted by Jaque-Louis David in 1780. The equestrian format is owed to influences from Peter Paul Rubens. Since equestrian portraits in all media are very common and something that most people have seen before, this piece acts as a good introduction to the collection by allowing viewers to build upon their existing knowledge of the horse in art. This portrait is a very straightforward and typical depiction of the horse, and is thus a good introduction to the collection.
A Grey Horse - This painting is very similar to the preceding one, though lacking the rider. This important difference demonstrates that the horse alone can function as subject matter. In equestrian portraits, the rider is the subject and the horse serves to support the rider (both physically and contextually), whereas with this painting, the horse stands alone. Riderless horses are also known to be a symbol of death and often accompany funeral processions of fallen soldiers.
Horse Caparisoned - This painting depicts a horse dressed in a caparison, which is the cloth laid over the horse’s haunches. This decorative covering was used to show importance, and was often reserved for horses of state. In this piece, the horse is used to demonstrate wealth and rank; while the horse is the visual subject, the painting is not about the horse.
The White Horse - The color of the horse contrasts nicely and stands out from the background, making the horse appear to shine from the dark brown depths of the box it is housed in. The impressionistic style of painting also helps to convey the horse’s annoyance, perhaps stemming from being kept in a dark box instead of being free. The artist’s simple portrayal of his beloved friend demonstrates his feelings of sympathy and empathy for the horse. This painting is just another example of how horses can be portrayed in art, much different from an equestrian portrait or as a symbol of status.
Death on a Pale Horse - This image depicts Death, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, announcing the Day of Judgment (as described in the Book of Revelation). This image is something completely unlike the others, and this departure from the theme is something I find fascinating. While it is so different, it is still relevant to the theme because of the horse imagery, thereby demonstrating the versatility and variation of the horse in art.