Trends over the ages

Trends over the ages

Quotes from the book ‘From Marcus Aurelius to Kim Jong-il’

Over the centuries, we have known a number of trends in art.
Equestrian statues reflect these changing styles.

Roman times and before

The first equestrian statues that fall within my definition were erected in Rome. Unfortunately, the statue of Marcus Aurelius is the only one of these to have survived.   ……………..In the British Museum in London, there is a beautiful marble sculpture of an unknown youth on horseback. The young man is naked apart from his military cloak. The statue was found in or near Rome in the 16th century and then restored by the Italian architect and sculptor Giacomo della Porta. The sculpture dates most probably from the 1st century and may represent a Julio-Claudian prince.

Greek prince
London, British Museum

…………………………The first equestrian statues were erected in ancient Rome because the rulers in those times wanted to be immortalized by portraying themselves as equestrians. This was made possible by the availability at that time of the immense artistic and technical craftsmanship needed to make life-size, bronze statues. From the mere fact that it would take more than 1000 years before people were again able to make statues comparable with those of ancient Rome, one may surmise the immense amount of skill required.

………………….The splendid Marcus Aurelius statue should set the example for many other equestrian statues in later years.

………………….Less known is another late Antique equestrian monument, the so-called ‘Regisole’ (Sun King), originally erected in Ravenna, most probably in the 5th century AD. This statue was moved to Pavia in the Middle Ages and was destroyed in 1796 after the French Revolution.

Italy, Pavia, Regisole
Italy, Pavia, Regisole

Gothic art

In the Middle Ages, the centuries between Late Antiquity and the Renaissance, the Gothic style was predominant. This style was characterized in sculpture by a tendency towards realism and attention to detail. A number of interesting equestrian sculptures were crafted in that period. The most important…………….

In Milan: Oldrado de Tresseno, mayor of Milan, by the first Gothic artist in Italy: Benedetto Antelami, placed in a niche on the facade of the Palazzo di Giustizia, the ancient tribunal whose construction Oldrado completed in 1233.

Italy, Milan, Oldrado de Tresseno by Benedetto Antelami
Italy, Milan, Oldrado de Tresseno by Benedetto Antelami

…………………….Also in Germany the Magdeburger Reiter dating from 1240, probably representing Otto the Great. The original sandstone sculpture is in the Historical museum of Magdeburg. It is likely that the statue was painted, but the colours disappeared over the years.

Germany, Bamberg, Bamberger Reiter
Germany, Bamberg, Bamberger Reiter

…………………….The equestrian sculptures on the Scaliger Tombs in Verona date from the 14th century. These tombs are outstanding examples of Gothic art.


Renaissance

The Renaissance is the period in which art was driven by the new notion of ‘humanism’, a philosophy that had been the foundation for many of the achievements of pagan ancient Greece. This movement downplayed religious and secular dogma, and instead attached the greatest importance to the dignity and worth of the individual.

………………The statue of Gattamelata is a sharp departure from earlier, post-classical statues like the Gothic Bamberger Reiter, which lacks the dimension, power and naturalism of Gattamelata.

……………….Nicollo Baroncelli and Antonio di Christoforo, both pupils of Brunelleschi, Donatello’s arch competitor and long-time associate, sculpted the equestrian statue of Niccolo III in Ferrarara. Being erected in 1451 that statue would have been the oldest surviving equestrian statue since antiquity, had it not been destroyed during the Napoleonic invasions in 1796.

………………..In 1496, a magnificent equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni was erected in Venice. Andrea del Verrochio (1435-1486), said to be an apprentice of Donatello, crafted the statue. However he died before his masterpiece was cast. Alessandro Leopardi finalized this equestrian.

…………………..Two marvellous equestrian renaissance sculptures in France, worth mentioning are: an equestrian sculpture of Louis XII and a fine equestrian sculpture in sandstone of Duc Antoine on a rearing horse in a niche above the entrance of the Ducal Palace in Nancy.


Mannerism

It was not until 1594, nearly a century after the finalization of the Colleoni statue, that the next equestrian statue was modelled: the statue of the Florentine Cosimo I, founder of the Medici dynasty. This was a masterpiece by Giambologna, a pre-eminent representative of the Mannerist trend in the art, which was more expressive than its Renaissance predecessor.

Giambologna (1529-1608) was an Italian sculptor in all but birth……………..The statue of Cosimo I would soon be the standard for European royal courts as a symbol of monarchic authority.

………….The first equestrian statue erected in England was the statue of Charles I, also by a pupil of Giambologna: Hubert le Sueur (London, 1633). This statue would serve as an artistic reference point for the equestrian statues in the UK for more than a century.

…………….So one can say that the influence of Giambologna was enormous. He or one of his pupils created all the equestrian statues erected in the first half of the 17th century.


Baroque

Dynamic movement and energy of human forms characterize Baroque sculpture figures.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) was a universal genius, perhaps the greatest sculptor of the 17th century and an outstanding architect as well. He created the Baroque style, the last Italian style to become an international standard. Among the many sculptures he created, are two equestrians: the marble sculpture of Constantine in St. Peters church in Rome and the equestrian of Louis XIV. The last mentioned statue had a dreary fate.  ………….Bernini chose to make the features of Louis XIV resemble those of Alexander the Great. Bernini’s pupils finished the statue after his death and….

Other Italian Baroque artists creating equestrians were Francesco Mochi (1580-1654), who modelled the two masterly equestrian statues of Allesandro and Ranuccio Farnese and Agostino Coraccini, who sculpted the marble Charlemagne equestrian standing in St. Peter’s church in Rome opposite the Bernini sculpture of Constantine.

………………..An outstanding baroque sculptor in Germany was Andreas Schlüter, the creator of the first equestrian statue in Germany: the statue of Kurfürst Friedrich Wilhelm der Grosse.

………………..French baroque sculptors were Francois Girardon, Jean Joseph Vinanche and Jacques Saly to name but a few. French artists were very much sought-after in …….

……………………..The first equestrian statue in Portugal of Joseph I by Joaquim Machado de Castro is a representative of the Baroque in Portugal.


(Neo) Classicism

Neoclassicism, the predominant movement in European art during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, reflected a desire to rekindle the spirit and forms of classical art from ancient Greece and Rome.

The movement proved to be a fertile art trend for Marcus Aurelius inspired equestrian statues, varying from straightforward copies to more baroque versions.

…………………..It is fair to note that a statue can be a look alike of the Marcus Aurelius statue in all technical details (like e.g. no stirrups, saddle cloth, simple tunic, no armour, rider looking ahead with right arm slightly raised, the horse with his right leg raised), but nevertheless misses the charisma, the magic of the Marcus Aurelius statue, a combination of restfulness and authority.

…………Some of the neo classic statues do however have the quality of their own charisma.

…………..Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770-1844) was a Danish sculptor, who spent most of his life in Rome. His patrons resided all over Europe. Upon his return to Denmark in 1838, Thorvaldsen was received as a national hero.

………………Some of the other equestrian statues, characteristic for the Neoclassicism, are: in Vienna the statues of Franz I by Balthasar Moll, in Mexico City


Modern times

As from the second half of the 19th century there were no such clear art movements to distinguish as in the centuries before as far as it concerns equestrian statues. That does not mean that there are no modern equestrian statues. On the contrary, there are some noteworthy examples of modern equestrian statues.  A few examples are Hernando de Soto by Fortunato and da Silba (1984) in Barcarrota (Spain) and …..

………………An outstanding example of an original modern equestrian statue is also the statue of also the statue of Goncalo Mendes de Maia in Portugal.