- Marino Marini
- stamped with the initials M.M.
- bronze, extensively hand-chiselled and painted by the artist
Private Collection, USA
Toninelli Arte Moderna, Rome
Jack Wexler, New York
J.H. Loria, New York
Landau Fine Art, Montreal
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2000
Eduard Trier, Marino Marini, Cologne, 1954, illustration of another cast pl. 19
Patrick Waldberg, Herbert Read & Gualtieri di San Lazzaro, Marino Marini Complete Works, New York, 1970, no. 280, illustration of another cast p. 365
Carlo Pirovano, Marino Marini, Scultore, Milan, 1972, no. 286, illustration of another cast n.p.
Lorenzo Papi, Marino Marini. Impressioni di Lorenzo Papi, Ivrea, 1987, illustration of another cast n.p.
Carlo Pirovano (ed.), Marino Marini, Catalogo del Museo San Pancrazio di Firenze, Milan, 1988, no. 138
Fondazione Marino Marini (ed.), Marino Marini. Catalogue raisonné of the Sculptures, Milan, 1998, no. 357b, illustration of the plaster p. 252
In the years before and during the Second World War, Marini endowed his horses with a grace and poise that nodded to classical sculpture. In the 1950s, however, the subject was injected with an intensity and dynamism that reflected the post-war mood of anguish and instability. The present work is an excellent example of the artist's transition towards a more expressive style. The horse is still steadily planted on the ground, but its tense, outstretched neck and head and the precarious positioning and pose of the rider give the work a more perilous character. This is typical of Marini's mature works, where his horsemen become increasingly insecure in their mounts, flinging their arms out to break their fall, or slipping helplessly off the horse's back. Marini here reinterprets the classical subject of horse and rider, challenging the once triumphant vision of human mastery over a magnificent animal. In a dramatic reversal of roles - consistent with the mood of uncertainty that loomed over post-war Europe – it is now the horse who dominates and the rider is left vulnerable and out of control.
Equestrian images have a long and esteemed tradition in Western art. Throughout the centuries, paintings and sculptures of men on horseback, often depicting noble cavalrymen or generals mounted on their steed, celebrated the glories and victories of an era or an empire. But the sculptures of riders and horses that Marino Marini created, particularly those post-war examples, are a radical departure from this tradition: 'My equestrian figures are symbols of the anguish that I feel when I survey contemporary events. Little by little, my horses become more restless, their riders less and less able to control them. Man and beast are both overcome by a catastrophe much like those that struck Sodom and Pompeii' (Marino Marini, quoted in Sam Hunter, Marino Marini, The Sculpture, New York, 1993, p. 60). Marini became obsessed with making the theme of horse and rider relevant to the contemporary age, and no other artist in the history of 20th century art came close to revitalising this age-old subject with such creativity and expressive force. His anonymous, highly abstracted horsemen eschew any pomp or pretence and are rich with psychological complexity and formal beauty.
Marini's interest in the horse and rider theme initially derived from Etruscan and classical Roman sculptures, such as the iconic equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, that he had seen as a young art student in Italy. His first serious artistic consideration of the theme occurred during the early 1930s, after travelling to Northern Europe where he saw the 11th century equestrian statue of Emperor Henry II in Bamberg cathedral. Marini's admiration for these medieval examples, as well as for Degas's sculptures of racehorses, the Italian Futurists' mechanised horses, and Picasso's terrified horse in Guernica, inspired him to explore equestrian themes in his art. Over the next several decades, Marini's horsemen became increasingly abstract, and the bodies of the horse and rider were simplified to their most elemental components. By the 1950s, when the present work was executed, Marini developed what are widely acknowledged as his most powerful and affecting representations of this subject. Reflecting on the development of these sculptures, he wrote: 'In the end, my passion for the horse represented a personal research into a kind of visual architecture. The horse's form is the opposite of man's; the horse is horizontal, man is vertical... However, the concept changed over the years, and at a certain point what had been serene and tranquil became agitated and expressionistic' (quoted in Sam Hunter, Marino Marini, The Sculpture, New York, 1993, p. 78).
The present work captures a precise and critical moment in time, the moment when the fall of the rider becomes inevitable. The rider's fate is precarious: it is a depiction of man on the threshold between life and death. The fragility of human life became a dominant artistic theme in this post-war period of uncertainty, and the work of artists such as Francis Bacon and Alberto Giacometti was soon regarded as paradigmatic of the increasingly prevalent Existential theories and mood that was sweeping from Paris across Europe. The influence of Picasso's Guernica, 1937 (fig. 1), cannot be underestimated as a visual source for the stark, jarring forms of Cavaliere. The dramatic jolt of the horse's body, its head and neck fully extended, nods to the pose and expression of the horse in the centre of Guernica, lost in the chaos of the scene. Picasso's masterpiece was much more overtly politically motivated, but nonetheless the two works share a remarkably similar atmosphere of drama and dynamism. The present work is characterised by an exceptional intensity of expression, and this is complemented by its beautifully highly worked surface, a testament to the artist's detailed approach to sculptural finish.
The polychrome plaster version of this model belongs to the Museo Marino Marini, Florence and another of the bronze casts can be found in the Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth.