Challenges of creation

Challenges to overcome in the process of realizing an equestrian statue

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

To bring an equestrian statue into being is not an overnight job, and many hurdles have to be overcome.

Start of the process

……………………..In the early days, it was simply the monarch or someone such as a condottieri himself who decided that he wanted to be remembered for the centuries to come, by portraying himself as an equestrian. Later, it became the normal practice

Financing

As already stated, if the financing was by (the family of) the portrayed, the financing of the statue was not that much of a problem. This was usually the case with the monarchs and the condottieri in the past and is now so again with some of the new Americans, such as…………….

………………..However, even in the event that a statue was a gift, this did not automatically result in it being installed, as the following example shows us. A private individual donated a replica of the Jeanne d’Arc statue by Emmanuel Frémiet to the city of New Orleans in 1958………………

………………….An equestrian statue was sometimes the result of a spontaneous reaction by the population, for example in the case of the Grant statue in Chicago, Illinois. <Within days of the death of Ulysses S. Grant in 1885, tens of thousands of people began donating dimes, quarters and dollars to commission a monument in his honour.> Sometimes the population was even overenthusiastic. In Richmond Virginia……………………

…………………….I was recently offered the opportunity to finance one of the 10,000 bronze warriors of the Genghis Khan army for about US $15,000 (a bargain), in exchange for a warrior with my face and the mention of my name on the base. A very creative and original way to raise the funds needed.

Selection of the sculptor(s)

As far as I know, the Medici family in Florence has been the only commissioner to have its own ‘in-house’ sculptor: Giambologna.

…………In the early days, the number of artists qualified to do the job was limited. In the eighteenth century, sculptors sometimes had to be hired abroad. It goes without saying that in such a market, the prices and conditions demanded by the artist could be extremely high.

As time went on, the supply of qualified artists increased. The number of competitors for the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ monument in Des Moines was as high as 48! It is very sad that the Iowa artist Ketcham, chosen over the 47 others, died before the completion of the monument, as…………………

…………………For a good reason, in a number of cases projects were awarded to more than one artist. As stated before, one has to realize that creating an equestrian statue is one of the most challenging assignments for a sculptor, involving a combination of two dissimilar figures – a horse and a rider – in one harmonious unity.

Disputes as a cause for delay

Disputes over all sorts of matters often cause delays. There can be disputes about the location, the rider, the dress and even the gender of the horse.

……………………….It is not only the place, but also the position of a statue that could be a matter of fierce dispute, as the famous statue of Bogdan Khmelnitsky in Kiev (Ukraine) illustrates. It was to have been placed in St Sofia square in such a way that the hetman’s mace was threatening Poland. However, that would have meant……..

……………….That even the gender of the horse could give rise to dispute is illustrated by the statue of Scott in Washington DC, by Kirke Brown. The sculptor was known for his commitment to historical accuracy ………………..

Death of the sculptor as a cause for delay

As we have already seen, it was sometimes the case that the artist responsible for the design and construction of a statue died before its completion. Verrochio died in 1488, and his competitor Leopardi finalized the famous Corleone statue. The death of Giambologna in…………

………………..Most tragic was the death of Shrady in 1922. He spent 20 years of his life on the Grant memorial in Washington DC and died, stressed and overworked, two weeks before the dedication of the monument.

Post-completion challenges

Once a statue is completed, the next question is whether the principal is happy with the result. That was not always the case, as we have already seen in the case of the equestrian statue by Bernini for Louis XIV. There are more examples.

…………….The statue of the Black Prince had to be transported in 1903 by ship from Antwerp to Leeds. Transhipment of the cargo to a barge from the steamer on which it was transported from Antwerp to Hull was not without drama. Fear that the statue might be broken while being hoisted by a steam crane into the hold of the barge caused the dock management to refuse to load the cargo unless indemnified against potential damage. The sculptor had to give (and gave) the required assurance.

………………………No one was anxious to take the job, as a miscalculation in the design of the devices to be used would result in destroying ‘this superb work of art’. Captain Charles Dimmock was selected to do the work. This engineer had to threaten his workers at gunpoint when they appeared to be letting go of the rope, thus risking wrecking the statue.

…………….So the statue was put aside and it was only in 1923, when Poland again emerged as an independent country, that the statue was unveiled, almost a century after this classical work had been designed. The Germans blew up the statue in World War II and the Danish people gifted a replica in 1951.

………………..It was only in 1795 that enough funds became available to commission the building of the statue to John Bacon Junior, after a design by John Bacon Senior. The actual cost of the statue was UK £3,275 (£215,000 in today’s buying power). The statue was finally erected in 1808, some 115 years after the original order.

Dedication

All the hurdles have been overcome; the equestrian statue is finalized and has to be dedicated. Often this was enough reason for sumptuous festivities with military bands playing, bishops praying, masses and benedictions, artillery salutes and cannons booming, speeches and orations, poems, hymns, ceremonial diners, guests of honour, etc.

……………….The cost of the festivities was close to €270,000 in today’s buying power. Eight people fainted (one of them being the son of the sculptor) and two bag snatchers were arrested. The sculptor was in uniform, bearing the Order of Franz Joseph awarded to him the evening before.

……………….Some of those ceremonies have been extensively described, for example the unveiling in 1916 of the Sheridan equestrian statue in Albany, New York. A booklet of no fewer than 124 pages describes almost everything with regard to the statue: the origin of the movement, the artists, the parade and unveiling ceremony, the reception, the dinner, etc., including the texts of addresses and remarks by dignitaries. The booklet ends with………………..

………………..And don’t think that only in the past were the dedications so sumptuous. The quote here is from a Reuters report on the unveiling in 2015 of the statue of Berdymukhamedov in Turkmenistan: ‘The composition was unveiled in Ashgabat on Monday, to cheers of “Glory to Arkadag!” from assembled students, as white doves and balloons were released into the sky’.

……………..According to local historians, so many people showed up that the food ran out and the meal turned into a plate-throwing, fist-fighting brawl.