Renaissance History of Horse Art

Logo for Horse Art in Ancient Civilizations Horses in  Art flourished  in the Renaissance along with the freedom to depict images with a more pure interpretation of form.

History of Horse Art Areas and Times:

Art Bio of Sculptor Patricia Crane
Horse Artist: Four Decades of Horse Art by Patricia Crane

History of Horse Art Main Page
Ancient Civilizations
Early Oriental
Medieval Times
Baroque Age
Eighteenth Century
Nineteenth Century

Illustrations of Renaissance Horses in  Art:
St George and the Dragon - Uccello 1397-1475
Gattamelata Monument - Donatello 1386-1466
Leonardo da Vinci
Pisanello 1395-1455
St George on Horseback - Albrecht Durer 1471-1528
St George and the Dragon - Raphael 1483-1520

History of horse Art in the Renaissance flourished, like much else in society, with the break down of the more strict form of iconography of Medieval art. New approaches first arose in Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries and spread throughout Western Europe.

Man was now seen as having been created in the image of God and artists were free to depict a much larger range of subject material, other than the previously accepted art images of the church. After the strict confines of religious paintings in the previous age, artists turned to pure interpretation of form using the example of classical art from ancient times.

Paolo Uccello (late 1300's - late 1400's) created an equestrian portrait of Sir John Hawkwood mounted on his horse. The dimensional perspective of Paolo Uccello was pretty much responsible for establishing this trend in painting and Uccello often used monumental horses to demonstrate this painting theory. (A detail from a Uccello painting is seen on the History of Horse Art  index page.)

Uccello, with Pisanello, was the first to produce paintings of "horses" in art in the Renaissance. Ucello's panels of the battle of San Romano, were painted for the hall on the ground floor of the Medici palace and are now in many museums of the world. Uccello's art looked both backward at the Middle Ages yet forward to modern art with some paintings almost containing a cubist quality, and he loved to portray the horse and other animals.

Ucello was certainly an original - his brush strokes changed the depiction of horse and artwork from the flat images of horses and horsemen and the little enamel drawing on medieval manuscripts by the addition of perspective and lighting. Art would never be the same!

Twenty years after Uccello's equestrian sculpture, Donatello sculpted a monument of the Captian General of Venice which was installed in the Piazza del Santo in Padua. Within another 30 years, another equestrian monument in Venice was created by Verrocchio.

Along with the Renaissance artists' interest in man, came an interest in the horse which was now frequently depicted in art works, as can be seen in the drawings of Pisanello and Leonardo da Vinci. Both artists made studies for large horse sculptures, which sadly never came to be created, surely partly because of the technical issues of casting bronzes of the rearing horse. Leonardo did make many drawings of the horse from life for the Duke of Milan. Leonardo's notebooks reveal that he carefully studied and even measured the horse, a trend that 300 years later was used by George Stubbs to create his art.

Unfortunately, the problems of painting the horse in perspective are seen in works from this time forward, and many otherwise competent painters depicted horses with long noses, with practically no necks, or with large out of proportion hind quarters.

History of horse art in the Renaissance was furthered by the intense interest in bronze sculpture and the statuette. This was a revival from ancient, or classical art, but the smaller scale now made it possible for the patronage of the private collectors. Andrea Ricco, a Flemish sculptor who worked in Italy, sculpted many small horse monuments.

Probably based on the past history of the tournament,  artworks often displayed rulers or the famous, mounted on horses rearing to spring forward. Titian (1490-1576) portrayed the Emperor Charles V in such a manner, and Raphael's St George and the Dragon has a similar feel; certainly Velasquez later did the same.

With the works of Uccello, Donatello and Verrocchio sculptures, and the painting of Titian, horses in art reached a high point that despite other wonderful examples such as Clouet's painting of Francis I and van Dyck's paintingof Charles 1, were not surpassed. The formal horse portraiture continued of course for roughly five more centuries, but other than alterations in customs and clothing, remained basically unchanged.

However artists painting battle scenes with large numbers of horses and men, enabled the portrayal of action, of movement. Leonarado's unfortunately lost painting, Battle of Anghiari , shows from drawings that survived, a consummate composition of life like actions and violence both of the horse and of man in extreme conditions.

Giulio Romano (1500's) in his Battle of Constantine fresco for the Vatican used the same theme. The work of Peter Paul Rubens (mid 1500's to mid 1600's) showed a complete mastery of these theme in his Battle of the Amazons, with great surging movement. Such painting and examples of the horses in art were to greatly influence the Baroque period.

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© All Photos and Sculpture Copyright 2000 - 2017, Patricia Crane.