Statue or sculpture?

Statue or sculpture?

When writing a book on equestrian statues, defining the subject was unavoidable. I reached the following definition:

An equestrian statue is a free standing, unique and monumental sculpture of the combination of a horse and an identifiable – and real – rider, made from a durable material.

Any sculpture of the combination of man or woman and horse, that does not meet the requirements as defined, is termed an ‘equestrian sculpture’. There are a great many of these sculptures, often noteworthy works of art. This is reason enough to dedicate a separate section to this group and to pay specific attention to a number of them in Part 2 of this book. To limit myself, however, I have concentrated in general on equestrian statues.

Defining implies making choices. These are the ones that I made.

Free standing

This excludes high-relief equestrians and those that are not free standing (for example, in niches like the famous sculpture of Louis XII by Emile Seurre in Blois, France). An equestrian statue has to be visible from all sides.


I excluded exact replicas of an existing equestrian statue. There are, for example, many replicas of the Jeanne d’Arc statue by Emmanuel Frémiet, but the original is the only one on the list. If the original statue was destroyed and a replica exists, I considered the oldest replica to be the equestrian statue. There are also examples of statues based on a former one by the same artist but (slightly) different because of comments about the first statue or the specific wishes of the person who commissioned the statue. An example of this is the statue of Francis Asbury in the US. The sculptor, Augustus Lukeman, had every reason to depict an exhausted horse, as Asbury was said to have travelled over 275,000 miles on horseback to preach the gospel. Because it was specifically requested, Lukeman repositioned the horse’s head for a copy of the statue in Madison New Jersey, because the horse in Washington DC appeared to be biting its knee. There are more examples mentioned in this book. In these cases, both statues are on the list as they are different and therefore unique.


The statue is at least life size. This means the exclusion of a number of small equestrian statues and what are termed statuettes.


There are many attractive sculptures of animals ridden by people, such as the sculpture in Oslo of a bear ridden by a naked woman or the one of King Naresuan riding a war elephant in Thailand. Nevertheless, no matter how impressive or attractive these sculptures may be, they do not qualify as equestrian statue. Even if the animal was a donkey, the sculpture did not come through the selection. For this, I apologise to Sancho Panza in Spain and Nasreddin Hodja in Turkey! And ‘Searching for Eutopia’ by Jan Fabre, an enormous tortoise ridden by the sculptor, is definitely not an equestrian statue

Identifiable and a real person

This criterion excludes many works of art, for example the many magnificent sculptures by Marino Marini who brought the image of man and horse back to a highly stylized bare minimum (see Section 1.14.6). It also means that a number of memorials and allegorical sculptures are excluded, as well as the great number of anonymous cowboys and Native Americans in the US. As a result of this criterion, I also excluded equestrian sculptures of mythical figures and characters from literature, such as Bendigeidfran (in Wales), Don Quixote and Lady Godiva.

The many depictions of saints, including Saint George and Saint Martin, are a more doubtful case. They may have lived, but they are portrayed more as symbols than as historical and identifiable people. Therefore, I did not categorize them under the heading of equestrian statues, but in the separate category of equestrian sculptures.

Made of durable material

By durable, I mean a material that can potentially survive the ravages of time, such as bronze, lead, aluminium or stone. Wood is therefore not considered as durable, which means that a number of funeral monuments, mainly in Italian churches, are not on the list. Needless to say, the sculpture of the Duke of Cumberland, recently placed in Cavendish square in London, to replace the original that was removed when the Duke fell into disfavour – made of soap and designed to wash away over the course of a year – therefore did not qualify either.

And however impressive it may be, a strong man carrying a horse, such as the statue of Kaba Baatyr in Bishtek (Kyrgyzstan), also did not make the list.