I took my first photograph of an equestrian statue in July 1981. It was in Pierrefonds, France, and shows the statue of Louis d’Orleans by Emmanuel Frémiet. I can’t say why I took the picture. It is a pleasant enough statue, but not a particularly special one. I like horses, but have never ridden one *. Nor do I identify with the riders.
Around that time I started to travel the world on business. Almost everywhere I went there was an equestrian statue, and I started to photograph them.
The more I discovered about equestrian statues, the more fascinated I became. After my retirement a few years ago, I began in earnest to collect data for a book. Much had changed since my first photograph in 1981. In those early years, finding an equestrian statue was a matter of happenstance or fluke. Our children still remember that a few francs or lire could be earned from spotting a statue during our holidays in France and Italy. Nowadays, thanks to the Internet I can usually plan my trips abroad so as not to miss a statue. I nevertheless have mixed feelings when I stumble across one that is not on my list. On the one hand, I am delighted to discover a new statue. On the other, I am disappointed at the quality of my desk research.
Much has also changed with the arrival of satellite navigation systems. No more exhausting searches in foreign cities; just straight to the statue. Only in Japan was ingenuity required, when I found out that the input required by the navigation system was a telephone number. Even in Japan, equestrian statues do not have a telephone! Another development was the coming of the digital camera. The quality of my photographs improved considerably and the number I could take became almost endless. This also meant that I had to revisit most of the statues that I had photographed before, because of the lower quality of my earlier pictures.
One of my early decisions was not to aim for a scientific publication. The book should of course be balanced and the information well researched, but also readable and entertaining: a book with a personal touch.
The poem Ithaka by the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy became my guide. From this composition:
As you set out for Ithaka, hope the voyage is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery. ……….. Keep Ithaka always in your mind. Arriving there is what you are destined for. But do not hurry the journey at all. Better if it lasts for years, so you are old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you have gained on the way, not expecting Ithaka to make you rich
With the publication of this book I have reached my ‘Ithaka’, not expecting wealth, but rich from all the knowledge and experiences I have gained during my trips abroad over the years.
In order to see the statues from the right perspective, and in some cases to understand the sensitivities around them, I read much about the history of the countries I visited. My ideas about the past and present of many regions in the world became much more nuanced than before.
Our unconventional approach to travel meant that my wife and I often went to places rarely seen by most tourists. Yes, there were statues – but much more. We visited sleepy old towns, colourful temples and impressive cathedrals. We enjoyed fantastic museums, from Hohhot in China to Lens in France. We visited the opera in Lisbon and in Ulan Bator. We crossed the Andes as well as the Gobi desert. In Japan we enjoyed the hot baths and attended early morning prayers in a monastery high in the mountains. We tasted sophisticated food in Japan and pungent, spicy dishes in India. We stayed in cosy bed and breakfasts, in cold tents in Mongolia, in bridal suites with four-poster beds and in historic buildings. We met a lot of friendly and interesting people, even when I was arrested in India. In short, this travel has enriched our lives.
The book consists of two parts.
Part 1 is about the equestrian statue in general: the ‘why’ of equestrian statues, their history and fate, their sculptors, their settings, the challenges of their creation, the horses and their riders, and the statistics. A separate chapter is dedicated to equestrian sculptures.
Part 2 gives an overview by region and country of the most important and interesting equestrian statues. The statues cannot be separated from their historical and cultural context. To provide that context, I offer a brief history of a number of the countries covered.
With two exceptions (the photographs of the equestrian statue of Kim Jong-il in North Korea and of Berdihumamedow in Turkmenistan), I took the photographs in this book myself. This means that the quality may not always be that of a professional and that not all of the statues described are shown, but it is the consequence of my choice to make this book a personal document of my journey to Ithaka.
I sincerely hope that this book conveys to the reader just a fraction of the richness I have gathered on my voyage.
Amsterdam, November 2016
*This is no longer true as I have ridden a horse in Colombia in January 2020
Note: As the book was sold out already in 2017, I decided to publish Part 1 of the text on this website. Where applicable I published parts of Part 2 with the respective countries, statues and sculptures and the rest in a separate chapter. The annexes in the book (the lists with the statues and the sculptures) are also not published under ‘The book’ as the more actual data are published under the headings ‘List of statues’ and ‘List of sculptures’ on this site.
Amsterdam, september 2020