Horses and Art History - 5.0 out of 5 based on 1 vote

User Rating: 5 / 5

Star ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar ActiveStar Active

From cave paintings to Cubism, nearly every major period in art history can be illustrated with a horse, as no other animal in Western Art has been represented in such a variety of styles.


Horse Painting, c.15,000 BC, Lascaux Caves, France

Horse Heads on Corinthian black-figure plate, 600–575 BC, Kunstareal State Collections of Antiques, Munich

By the 5th century BC, there already were paintings about the horse as a sculpture:

Foundry Painter, Athena in the Workshop of a Sculptor Working on a Marble Horse, c.480 BC, Kunstareal State Collections of Antiques, Munich

Ancient Rome used the equestrian statue as a way of celebrating important men, but most of the statues were eventually melted for metal, so only one has survived:

Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, 160-180 AD, Capitoline Museums, Rome

The convention of representing powerful people on horseback did not disappear in the Middle Ages, but the horse is never represented for its own sake in Medieval Art, which mainly highlights its military and agricultural roles:

Battle of Hastings, scene 55 from the Bayeux Tapestry, 1070s, William the Conqueror Center, Bayeux, France

Limbourg Brothers, October in Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 1412-1440s, Musée Condé, Chantilly, France

The Renaissance brought back the Roman tradition of the large equestrian statue, the first being Donatello’s Gattamelata:

Donatello, Equestrian Statue of Gattamelata, 1446-1453, Padua — Photo by Mary Ann Sullivan

Then the 1600s saw the confirmation of the portrait on horseback as a genre:

Diego Velázquez, Equestrian Portrait of the Count of Olivares, 1630s, Prado Museum, Madrid

As well as the rise of animal painting, with the horse represented for its own sake:

Paulus Potter, The Piebald Horse, 1650s, L.A. County Museum of Art, Los Angeles

The absolute master of horse painting, however, remains the 18th-century English painter George Stubbs:

George Stubbs, Whistlejacket, c.1762, National Gallery, London

George Stubbs, Mares and Foals in a Landscape, 1760s, Tate Britain, London

In the 1800s in France, Théodore Géricault and Eugène Delacroix brought a Romantic sensitivity and drama to the representation of horses:

Théodore Géricault, Grey-White Arab Horse, c.1812, Fine Arts Museum, Rouen

Eugène Delacroix, Arab Horses Fighting in a Stable, 1860, Louvre Museum, Paris

Horses can also be found in the Impressionist paintings of Edgar Degas, who captured snapshots at the races:

Edgar Degas, At the Races: Before the Start, 1892, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond

Even Wassily Kandinsky, who claimed to be the first abstract painter, could not escape the horse:

Wassily Kandinsky, Rider, 1911, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam

Nor could the Cubists (the horse’s head is in the upper right-hand corner):

Jean Metzinger, Woman with a Horse, 1911, Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen

So if you find yourself looking at a painted or sculpted horse, remember that it’s part of a history of representation that dates back about 17,000 years and includes nearly every major movement or period all the way up to World War II, making the horse the most widely represented animal in Western Art.