Human and horses

 

Ma Lijun

“There is nothing so good for the inside of a man as the outside of a horse.”
EARLY TWENTIETH-CENTURY PROVERB

 

The relationship between horse and human is  one of the longest love affairs to traverse history, and it is an affair that has been described by the hand of the artist.Horses have always occupied a special place in human consciousness. The connection with strength and power inspires man to produce works of art identifying his feeling for the horse, and human’s culture has been enriched by the association. The practical advantages from mastery over the horses have appealed to the more sophisticated requirements of human nature – the need for excitement, for aesthetic  satisfaction and as an expression of spiritual aspiration. To be seated on horseback, five feet above the ground, brings authority; to gallop hell-for- leather with the wind in your face lends the rider wings, as if at one with gods. This wonderful creature have played in human societies since they were domesticated some six thousand years ago has been so crucial that it is no exaggeration to say that the development of nations and cultures would have been quite different had they not existed.

The horse become integral to all the great early cultures, and with the recognition of its innate value it come to be perceived differently. Horses were decorated and adorned; they become to a large degree status symbols and we hightly prized. Individuals took a prode in their horses, and this, combined with a necessity for military horsepower, led to breeding regimes and intelligent animal husbandry. The Sumerians and Assyrians, who were skilled hunters and able to shoot arrows from their cavalry, kept detailed records of their horses, taking horses as their treasures.

The horse as a vehicle for the greater glorification of the rider is a tradition perpetuated since the horse was first ridden, and it most clearly appreciated in equestrian protraiture. This in itself is an ancient and enduring form of flattery. Who could doubt the power of the Roman emperor immortalized in bronze with his horse.

Depictuons from the Egyption tomb of Tutankhamun show splendidly presented horses in good condition: they were obviously inportant chariot horses, fit to pull a king. The horse is bigger than everbefore.”Thin-skinned, hot- blooded ,resilient, fine – boned and with a splendid and unparalleled bearing, these horses of ‘Eastern’ character had an overwhelming influence on the develoipment of modern horse breeds.”[Johns,11]

Horsing-racing propagated first by the Greeks and then take up by the Romans. Satisfying  human’s innate desire to compate when not warring, chariot- racing was an intoxicating , fast and furious sport, and usually involved either two-horse or four- horse teams.[Pickeral,132]

It was from the splendour of ancient Greece and Rome, from the second millenium BC onward, that the most tantalizing myths and legends sprang, and the horse again took centre stage.The stories so often recounted were vivdly illustrated in paint, bronze, marbel and mosaic, with Pegasus remaining one of the most often depicted and best known of mythological horses.

The relationship between the horse and human is one that has constantly changed, shifted and evolved with the passage of time. What has not changed is the irrefutable essence of the horse that so attracts humankind, including artisets.It is this indefinable quality that inspires great feeling, a feeling intangible but potent, a mysterious element that defies exact explanation.

 

 Kings and horses

Strength and speed are two of the equine qualities that humans have exploited since horse were first domesticated, and as the urge to compete is strong in many people. Kings and rulers of antiquity liked to be shown as mighty conquerors and the war-chariot was an appropriate part of that image.

Seal of Darius I (reigned 521-486 BC) Agate cylinder seal Height 3.7 cm (17/16 in.) London, The British Museum
Seal of Darius I
(reigned 521-486 BC)
Agate cylinder seal
Height 3.7 cm (17/16 in.)
London, The British Museum

Ancient Persians were great horse-people and value their horse highly. The horse was symbols of social status and courage. Within Persian society, horses were owned only by the privileged. They were used for racing and hunting, as in the lion hunt pictured, as well as for military campaigns and transport. With the exception of the magnificent Nisean breed, which is very smaller than a morden horse.

Light two-wheeled chariots were of the highest importance in ancient warfare and ceremonial display. The hunting of very large predators such as lions has been a royal and noble pursuit in many cultures.

The powerful , stocky horse shows no apparent signs of panic  in spite of the fact that lions claws are tearing at him, and both horse and rider are dressed with a degree of splendours that may seem inappropriate to the bloody business of slaughter. the effect, perhaps heightened by the uses of precious metal , is theatrical.

 

Tutankhamun in his chariot attacking Africans c,1567 -1320 BC  painted wood Cario, Egyptian National Museum
Tutankhamun in his chariot attacking Africans
c,1567 -1320 BC
painted wood
Cario, Egyptian National Museum

This painting  is one of several scenes decorating an elaborate wooden chest, which was one of the treasures uncovered during the excavation of Tutankhamun’s tomb, and remains in excellent condition, with the paintwork surprisingly bright and colourful.(Pickeral ,41)

The young king stands in his chariot drawn by two spirited horses. One of them with bared teeth, showing his age.Those horses,obviously larger that those in Persians’, are surging forwards. before and beneath them  are dead Africans,who are killed brutally by the king’s arrows and dogs. Thehorsespaintted by bright red is plunging into their attack with a ferocity that matches that of the young king. The horses with a tiara, dressed by caparison like they are showing themselves in a big festival.

Tutankhamun has the chariot reins tied around his waist to free both hands for shooting, indicating horses are good trained.

 

Achaemenian Period, 515B.C  Limestone Iran,Persepolis
Achaemenian Period, 515B.C
Limestone
Iran,Persepolis

“Persepolis was the unashamedly opulent palace of Darius I, begun in about 518BC and built to serve as the great king’s seat of government and as a centre for lavish entertaining. The place was designed to reflect the wealth and importance of the Persian empire in every stone, with the magnificent central hall, being the most visually arresting. Thirteen of the original seventy – two columns supporting the roof still survive, soaring from the arid landscape into the sky.”[Baskett,30]

This sense shows dignitaries from across the empire bringing tributes to the king. The finely modelled horse is just a gift, and  one that shows respects to the king. Although small is size, the horse has all features of powerful.  His strong legs and muscular body remind viewers his durable and reliable.

 

HORSES AND HEROES

detail of the so-called Alexander Sarcophagus Marble relief,451/4 in. high. Istanbul, Archaeological Museum
detail of the so-called Alexander Sarcophagus
Marble relief,451/4 in. high. Istanbul, Archaeological Museum

ALEXANDER was perhaps  the most charismatic leader in history: a legend in his own lifetime, he has been regarded as the model o fa great ruler and general throughout succeeding ages. The ancient accounts of his life include the story of how he won his horse, Buccephalus(Oxhead), by demonstrating, as a twelve- year- old boy, that he could control and ride his grown  stallion that was regarded as dangerously unmanageable. Buccephalus remained Alexander’s equine companion throughout the years of travel and campaigning as far afield as the Indian subcontinent, and died, aged about thirty, in 326BC, after the battle of Hydaspes. Alexander founded the city of Bucephala in his memory.

The sarcophagus was discovered at Sidon and was probably intended not  for Alexander but for his ally, Abdalonimus, King of Sidon(died 304 B.C). The relief’s  style follows that of Lysippus(active mid- to late 4th century), Alexander’s portraits, who, according to Pliny, carved many animals, including horses in quadrigas As in the famous cavalcade on the Parthenon frieze(part of the Elgin Marbles in The British Museum; about 440 BC), the horses’ poses are somewhat repetitive – and there for rhythmic – but naturalistically conceived. In this desperation of battle and even the pain inflicted by the fierce  Greek bits (the riders once held reins in one hand.)

 

 Riding 

Since people first learnt how to ride, there must have some who delighted in showing off exceptional equestrian skills, not only those that had an obvious purpose, such as the ability to use weapons of war when on horseback, but others that simply demonstrated athleticism and a high degree of mutual understanding between man and horse.

Greek horsemen of the fifth century BC riding bareback with the most casual ease and grace, their horses lively and spirited, but fully under control; Small but powerful, the horses’ prancing pose conveys eagerness and dynamism. Accustomed though we are to seeing saddles as essential articles of riding equipment, the image of the naked or near-naked rider on a similarly naked horse remains a powerful expression of the horse-human bond.

Statuette of a Horse and Rider Greek, mainland, early fifth century B.C. Bronze Height 8.3 cm., length 7.5 cm., width 2.5 cm. Princeton University Art Museum, gift of Frank Jewett Mather Jr. (y1948- 8)
Statuette of a Horse and Rider
Greek, mainland, early fifth century B.C.
Bronze
Height 8.3 cm., length 7.5 cm., width 2.5 cm.
Princeton University Art Museum, gift of Frank
Jewett Mather Jr. (y1948- 8)

The horse’s head is large in proportion to its stocky body and short legs. It holds itself proudly erect, the neck vertical, the head at a forty-five-degree angle. The eyes are large and slightly bulging; the nostrils flare. The muscles of the breast and flanks are well modeled.

The rider may be a boy: he is beardless, and his feet barely extend past the horse’s belly.He is nude, but unlike the horse, his genitals are not represented. He rides bareback, his posture erect but not stiff. The reins pass through the horse’s mane on the right side to emerge on the left, where the rider holds them in his left hand, his right hand lowered to his thigh. The reins are taut, accounting for the erect posture of the horse. “Through the slight turn of the rider’s head to one side, the group becomes more relaxed in its pose and signals the tendency of the period to break away from rigid postures”

 

 Racing horses

SPORTING celebrities , both human and equine, were admired and feted in the ancient world. The fourth- century poet Ausonius was asked by the emperor tho write an epitaph on the death of a famous racehorse name Phosphorus (‘Light – bearer’).

“Fly with haste to join the wing- footed

horses of Elysum; may Peasus gallop on your right and Arion as your

left-wheeler, and let Castor find a fourth horse for the team”

The poem describes the horse’s skill and strategy on the racetrack, delighting the roaring crowd of spectators, and concludes with the wish and belief that in the afterlife  Phosphorus might joun the immortal winged horses of myth and legend.

Fragment of a Relief-Amphora with Horse and Rider Greek, Cretan, ca. 660-630 B.C. Ceramic Height 19.07 cm., width 19.7 cm., maximum thickness 2.45 cm. Tampa Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. William Knight Zewadski in honor of j. Michael Padgett,Curator of Classical Art, 1990-1992 (1991.023.001) CONDITION The medium red to light brown clay is coarse and contains mica and darker red inclusions. The fragment is broken on all sides. The surface is worn, and there are chips in the horse's tail and the raised band below.
Fragment of a Relief-Amphora with Horse and Rider
Greek, Cretan, ca. 660-630 B.C.
Ceramic
Height 19.07 cm., width 19.7 cm., maximum thickness 2.45 cm.
Tampa Museum of Art, gift of Mr. and Mrs. William Knight Zewadski in honor of j. Michael Padgett,Curator of Classical Art, 1990-1992 (1991.023.001)
CONDITION
The medium red to light brown clay is coarse and contains mica and darker red inclusions. The fragment is broken on all sides. The surface is worn, and there are chips in the horse’s tail and the raised band below.

A horse gallops to the right, its body, legs, and tail stretched out and elongated in order to accentuate the perception of speed. A male figure wearing a belted tunic rides bareback, his head and upper body turned frontally to face the viewer. while holding onto the reins with his left head, his right hand is swung back, clutching a riding crop, now largely affected.

 

 Myth and Symbolism

People have always invested nature, including other animals, with symbolic menatings and mystical powers. In religious myth and magical folk-tale, horses take their palce as symbols of speed and power, courage and loyalty , beauty and nobility.”The idea of a flying horse is , however , far older and more widespread that its focus in Graeco-Roman culture”[25],A depictuon of a horse with huge, feathered wings can look wonderfullly plausibel, and the idea of flight is no more than an extension of the qualitites of speed and grace that are already associated iwth the species.

Terracotta, orange clay with inclusions, pale yellow-beige slip, mold-made, hand-finished, painted H. 56, W. 50 Museo Archeologico Regionale "Paolo Orsi" di Siracusa, inv. 34540, 34543, 34895 Syracuse, via Minerva, old temple of Athena, near aedicula E, 1913-14 excavations
Terracotta, orange clay with inclusions, pale
yellow-beige slip, mold-made, hand-finished,
painted
H. 56, W. 50
Museo Archeologico Regionale “Paolo Orsi” di
Siracusa, inv. 34540, 34543, 34895
Syracuse, via Minerva, old temple of Athena, near
aedicula E, 1913-14 excavations

This terracotta tablet represents the winged Gorgon Medusa, her legs positioned in the “Knielauf”pose, an Archaic convention that represents a figure running at great speed. Her torso is shown frontally and her lower body in profile. Her large wings curl above her shoulders and her winged right boot extends beyond the edge of the tablet.
Originally the figure was set in a square black background, and the tablet has been reassembled from several fragments with missing areas restored, especially noticeable on the right side.

With her right hand, the Gorgon grips the belly of the small winged horse Pegasus, tucking the creature under her arm. Pegasus rests his head on his mother’s breast. His elongated right eye is outlined in black and his mouth is slightly open. His neck is painted purple, the details of the mane, black. His rear hooves rest on the Gorgon’s right foot and his front hooves on her right thigh. The feathers of his lowered wing are painted black and purple, and his long cord-like tail hangs above th Gorgon’s foot. Pegasus and Chrysaor were the offspring of the Gorgon and the god Poseidon. Chrysaor’s head once rested in the hollow of the Gorgon’s left shoulder, but both his head and body are now missing.[Bennett,230]

Biblihyograpy

Johns, Catherine. Horses: History, Myth, Art. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard University Press, 2006.

Baskett, John. The Horse in Art. New Haven, Conn.Yale University Press, 2006.

Pickeral, Tamsin. The Horse: 30,000 Years of the Horse in Art. London: Merrell, 2006.

Bennett, Michael J. Magna Graecia: Greek Art from South Italy and Sicily. Cleveland, Ohio: Cleveland Museum of Art , 2002.

Padgett, J. Michael, and William A. P. Childs. The Centaur’s Smile: The Human Animal in Early Greek Art. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Art Museum , 2003.

By Ma Lijun