The horse in art

Bronze figurine of a horse with extremely schematic rendering of anatomical characteristics. Similar figurines are found frequently in large panhellenic (and smaller local) Greek sanctuaries of the Geometric period. This example is a product of a Peloponnesian workshop (possibly located in Elis) and might have come from the sanctuary of Olympia. The production of cast bronze figurines of votive character began in the first half of the 9th c. BC in major workshops at Argos, Corinth and in Laconia, and minor ones in other regions of the Peloponnese, Central Greece and the islands (especially Crete). They were intended as dedications in sanctuaries and represent male figures (deities, warriors, horsemen, charioteers) and animals (mainly horses and bovines). They are also encountered as decorative devices on handles of bronze votive cauldrons. The host of equine figurines seems to reflect the significance of the horse during the Geometric period, not only as a means of military superiority but also as a symbol of prestige and social status, as attested by the relevant Homeric references and the scenes of battles and ceremonial processions on Geometric vases.
Sculptors of the Geometric period were not interested in a naturalistic rendering of form; they chose instead to present figures by emphasizing certain parts of their anatomy. The exaggerated long legs of this horse call attention to its speed and mobility and serve to summarize its "horseness." Typical of small bronzes made in Greece in the 700s B.C., this statuette is a graceful, schematic rendering of a horse with little attention to surface detail. The perforated base indicates that the figure was made in southern Greece, perhaps in Lakonia. The 700s B.C. saw the rise of the great Greek sanctuaries like Olympia. Bronze statuettes were a favorite dedication to the gods, and horses were by far the favorite subject for these dedications; they are found in every sanctuary of this period. Greece had a pastoral economy at this time, which may explain the choice of horses and cattle, the second favorite subject, as offerings to the gods. Because they required extensive land and upkeep, horses were expensive to own and became symbols of wealth and power.
The sculpture was dedicated to the sanctuary of the Acropolis, possibly on the occasion of a victory in an equestrian contest (race of 'keletes'). Marble from the island of Paros.
This beautiful sculpture depicts a lady horse-rider of the T’ang period. She wears a high cap, tight fitting tunic and pants. Her forehead is decorated with a beauty mark in read. The lady and her horse are typically Chinese in style.
Michelangelo was a versatile and innovative painter, sculptor, architect and poet. He worked for the most distinguished patrons of the time: the Medici in Florence and Pope Julius II in Rome. Michelangelo lived a long, fruitful life. His prolific output and the high reputation he enjoyed during his lifetime ensured that many of his works, notably drawings, have survived. The museum has three Michelangelo drawings. This sheet has sketches on both sides. On one side are two forearms. They were preparatory studies for the raised right arms of Noah’s sons, who appear in the right section of the fresco, The Drunkenness of Noah, on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. Michelangelo was experimenting with the position of the arms and hands, as we see from his corrections to the contours. The muscles and sinews are done with hatching to make them look realistic. Michelangelo would certainly have been working from a live model. At upper left on the reverse of the sheet is a sketch of two naked horsemen, and a variant of the same motif. This was probably a study for a detail, which was never executed, for one of the fresco paintings in the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo drew another study, that of a male torso, after rotating the sheet 180 degrees.
This extraordinary sculptural group, which consists of a male nude astride a rearing horse, is a rare example of the work of Hans Ludwig Kienle, a silversmith from the South German city of Ulm who specialized in depicting animals. Conceived as a drinking cup, it was destined for display on buffets or sideboards, where it would have rested amidst other plate and porcelain, dazzling spectators at noble banquets. Kienle's work belongs to a larger body of German Renaissance and Baroque sideboard silver that included cups in the form of fully three-dimensional horses, lions, stags, and other animals. While these figure had detachable heads, as is the case with this horse, the vessels were more often purely ornamental, at times relating to heraldic devices associated with the owner, or to aristocratic pursuits such as hunting. Such horse-and-rider figures have their roots in Greek and Roman sculpture. Seeking to align themselves with the classical tradition, princes of the Renaissance (and later periods) had themselves depicted in monumental form, wearing classical dress or contemporary armor, and siting atop prancing or rearing steeds. This visual formula was employed in small scale bronzes by such sculptors as Jean de Boulogne, or Giambologna. That Kienle based this silver cup on an earlier sculptural model is suggested by the existence of a bronze group of virtually identical subject, composition, and scale, made in northern Italy during the second half of the sixteenth century. What makes Kienle's treatment of this subject so exceptional, however, is his skill at rendering it in precious metals. Working to suggest the differences between human and equine musculature, Kienle emphasizes these further by contrasting silver and gilt-silver surfaces, which animates to an even higher degree the already dynamic scene of an energetic horse kept under firm control by a skilled rider. This is a work of enormous importance, both as a work of sculpture and of the silversmith's art.
Monumental wooden horses (ja heda or jara heda) with one male or a pair of male and female ancestor riders are among the largest and most striking Southeast Asian animist sculptures. Such sculptures were installed in front of the clan temples (sao heda) in the Nagé and Kéo regions of central Flores, not far from where Homo floresiensis (Flores Man, nicknamed 'hobbit') was recently discovered. Throughout Flores, noble descendants of the ancestral, sometimes mythical, founders of a village take precedence over other lineages and clans. Ja heda are always associated with the descendants of the founding ancestors of major villages. In eastern Indonesian cultures, the horse is a symbol of the strength and the hunting (including headhunting) skills of the local ruler or chief, and equine motifs are prominent in the arts associated with noble families. The creation of the ja heda and erection of a new sao heda shrine require great wealth and elaborate ritual since hundreds of buffalo are sacrificed to the ancestors during the process. The ja heda acts as a guardian at the entrance to the clan temple where the sacred clan heirlooms—textiles, buffalo horns from ancestral sacrifices, ivory and gold—are stored and pairs of wooden ancestor figures installed. The horse’s enormous size, standing high on long poles, makes it a powerful protector. Identified as spirit guardians capable of conferring wealth and power, these creatures, with their long graceful bodies, represent both horse (jara) and horse-headed serpent (naga). The flanks of the horse are deeply carved with decorative motifs also found on other central Flores art forms such as textiles, gold jewellery and architectural facades of clan houses. Ancestors in animist Indonesia are usually perceived as couples who together created the universe and the community that now venerates them. In a dualist cosmology that recognises the complementary nature of male and female elements in all aspects of life and death, it is fitting that an ancestor couple (ana deo) is depicted. However, where a male equestrian appears alone, the horse and rider represent the male aspects and the clan temple is conceived as female. This is also the case in the neighbouring Ngada district of central Flores, where the male ancestor is represented as a thatched post and the female is now symbolised by a small house-shaped form. The Gallery’s recently acquired sculpture has a finely carved and particularly charming pair of ancestor riders. The female sits side-saddle with her hand placed fondly on the shoulder of her male partner who confidently holds the rein. These equestrian figures are associated with the founders of the major village, ancestral leaders whose exceptional powers allow them to mount and fly on naga. The erect penises on both horse and male rider allude to fecundity. This rare sculpture is a key work in the current major exhibition Life, death and magic: 2000 years of Southeast Asian ancestral art at the National Gallery of Australia and will subsequently be on permanent display, from 2011, in the Southeast Asian gallery.
The Museum of Fine Arts Budapest boasts several masterpieces by Eugene Delacroix, the leading figure of French Romantic painting. These paintings, drawings and lithographs are representative of all areas of the oeuvre of the artist, who rejected the Classicist cult of the line, and based his own style on the expressive power of colour. Delacroix was celebrated by his contemporaries almost exclusively as a painter, as he was reluctant to part with his drawings, which were not meant either for public display or for collectors. He kept his sketches and studies in his studio, which thus became publicly known only after his death. One of the rare exceptions is one of his most dramatic works, Horse Frightened by Lightning, which soon after completion he gave as a present to a friend, portrait and landscape painter Louis-Auguste Schwiter, in gratitude for the casts of a collection of antique medals, from which Delacroix made lithographs. The horse played a special role in the art of Delacroix in the 1820s. This was so because while preparing the monumental oil painting, Massacre at Chios (1824), he realised he needed a thorough knowledge of the anatomy of the horse if he was to paint historical scenes. Théodore Géricault's romantically impassioned horse representations were of decisive influence for him, but he did not fail to incorporate in his art the experiences of his 1825 trip to London either. He devoted much time to studying the rearing horses of the Parthenon Marbles in the British Museum, of which he later made lithographs, and he must have been influenced by the work of popular painters of animals. The most immediate precedent of the white rearing horse with the flying mane in the aquarelle held in Budapest is to be found in Sawrey Gilpin's Horses in a Thunderstorm (1797-1798). Delacroix had to know this work, made for the Royal Academy, because he replicated almost exactly the horse which recoils from the lightning in the middle of the British painting. He transformed this unimportant detail into the main motif, and by meticulously working out the reaction of the animal, he created an emotional charge that makes the piece essentially different from the model. In this watercolour, Delacroix achieves the perfect synthesis of the emotive power of a landscape and that of an animal representation. The plane stretching into the distance and the stormy sky that seems to be its extension provide a background for the frightened, rearing horse, as if for a sculpture. The lighting that crosses the almost unrealistically deep blue sky throws a sharp light on the alarmed animal. The red of its eye and distended nostrils intensifies the panic into a vision. The intensity of its motion and the gust of the storm ruffle its mane, while its tail is raised in the opposite direction. Delacroix's watercolour embodies all that the horse stood for in the eyes of the Romantics: power, nobility, untamed passion and intensified emotions. Though Alfred Robaut, the first monographer of the artist, dated the piece to 1824, thematic and stylistic links to other dramatic representations make modern scholars believe it was painted later, sometime between 1825 and 1829. Text: © Zsuzsa Gonda