Equestrian statue

Equestrian statue

An equestrian statue is a statue of a horse-mounted rider. The term is from the Latin "eques"," meaning "knight". A statue of an unmounted horse is strictly an "equine statue".


Ancient Rome

Such statues frequently commemorated military leaders, and those statesmen who wished to symbolically emphasize the active leadership role undertaken since Roman times by the equestrian class, the "equites" (plural of "eques") or knights.

There were numerous bronze equestrian portraits (particularly of the emperors) in ancient Rome, but they did not survive because it was practice to melt down bronze statues for reuse of the precious alloy as coin or other, smaller projects (such as new sculptures for Christian churches). The sole surviving Roman equestrian bronze, of Marcus Aurelius owes its preservation on the Campidoglio, Rome, to the popular mis-identification of Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor, with Constantine the Great, the Christian emperor.


After the Romans, no surviving monumental equestrian bronze was cast in Europe until Donatello achieved the heroic bronze equestrian statue of the condottiere Gattamelata, in Padua, executed in 1445–1450. As shown by the painted equestrian Funerary Monument to Sir John Hawkwood and that of Niccolò da Tolentino (both in Florence Cathedral), in 15th century Italy the form was associated specifically with condottieri. Bartolomeo Colleoni by Verrocchio in Venice (1478-88) was another influential example, in a more prominent city. Titian's equestrian portrait of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor of 1548 led the way in applying the form to rulers, and Cosimo I de' Medici by Giambologna in Florence (completed 1598) is the first life-size statue to feature a ruler rather than a condotiere.
Giambologna's equestrian bronze of Ferdinand de' Medici for the Piazza della SS. Annunziata was completed by his assistant, Pietro Tacca, in 1608. Tacca's last public commission was the colossal equestrian bronze of Philip IV, begun in 1634 and shipped to Madrid in 1640. In Tacca's sculpture, atop a fountain composition that forms the centerpiece of the façade of the Royal Palace, the horse rears, and the entire weight of the sculpture balances on the two rear legs—and, discreetly, its tail—a feat that had never been attempted in a figure on a heroic scale.


In the United States, the first three full-scale equestrian sculptures were Clark Mills' " Andrew Jackson" (1852), Henry Kirke Brown's "George Washington" (1856) for Union Square, New York and Thomas Crawford's Washington in Richmond, Virginia (1858). Mills was the first American sculptor to overcome the challenge of casting a rider on a rearing horse. The resulting sculpture was so popular he repeated it, for Washington, D.C., New Orleans and Nashville, Tennessee. Cyrus Edwin Dallin made a specialty of equestrian sculptures of American Indians: his "Appeal to the Great Spirit" stands before the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

20th Century

As the Twentieth Century progressed the popularity of the equestrian monument declined. This was in part due to the decline of the Beaux-Arts style, the chosen one for many of these monuments, but is was also due to the almost complete cessation of the use of the horse as a work and war animal. From time immemorial leaders, both political and military, rode horses as a matter of course and thus portraying them on horseback was a logical step.

The late 1970s and early 1980s witnessed a revival in equestrian monuments, largely in the Southwest part of the United States. There, art centers such as in Loveland, Colorado, Shadoni Foundry in New Mexico and various studios in Texas began once again producing equestrian sculpture.

These revival works fall into two general categories, the memorialization of a particular individual or the portrayal of less spectacular subjects, notably the American cowboy. Such monuments can be found throughout the American Southwest.

Popular belief

A common belief is that if the horse is rampant, that is with both front legs in the air, the rider died in battle. If the horse has one front leg up, the rider was wounded in battle or died of wounds sustained in battle, and if all four hooves are on the ground, the rider died of causes other than combat. Although some statues in commemoration of the Battle of Gettysburg follow this practice, it is generally not true.


"Equestrian Statue" is the title of a 1967 song by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, in which a town square is enlivened by the presence of an equestrian statue of a former dignitary.

Equestrian sculpture

Equestrian statues are a distinct form of equestrian sculpture, being completed three-dimensional (free-standing in the round) forms of art. The world's largest equestrian sculpture, when completed, will be the Crazy Horse Memorial. It will not be a statue, however, as only the upper torso and head of the rider and front half of the equine will be depicted. The carvings on Stone Mountain are likewise equestrian sculpture rather than true statues, being a form of bas relief, as is the Robert Gould Shaw Monument in Boston, Massachusetts.

ee also

*List of equestrian statues

External links

* [http://www.dcmemorials.com/equestrian.htm Equestrian statues in Washington, D.C.] (with pictures)



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  • equestrian — [ē kwes′trē ən, ikwes′trē ən] adj. [< L equestris (< eques, horseman < equus, horse: see HIPPO ) + AN] 1. of horses, horsemen, horseback riding, or horsemanship 2. depicting a person on horseback [an equestrian statue] 3. a) …   English World dictionary

  • statue — n. 1) to carve; sculpt, sculpture a statue 2) to cast a statue (in bronze) 3) to unveil a statue 4) an equestrian statue * * * [ stætʃuː] sculpt sculpture a statue an equestrian statue to carve to unveil a statue to cast a statue (in bronze) …   Combinatory dictionary

  • equestrian — equestrianism, n. /i kwes tree euhn/, adj. 1. of or pertaining to horseback riding or horseback riders: equestrian skill. 2. mounted on horseback: equestrian knights. 3. representing a person mounted on a horse: an equestrian statue. 4.… …   Universalium

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  • equestrian — /əˈkwɛstriən / (say uh kwestreeuhn), /i / (say ee ) adjective 1. of or relating to horse riding or riders. 2. mounted on horseback. 3. of or relating to the Roman equites: the equestrian order. 4. representing a person on horseback: an equestrian …   Australian English dictionary

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