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Friday, January 30, 2009

A Horse is a Horse, of course, of course... Except when He's Art

I was flipping through The New York Public Library Desk Reference (which by the way, has quickly become one of my favorite books) when I found this interesting morsel:

If a statue of a horse has both front legs in the air, the rider died in battle.
If the horse has one front leg in the air, the rider died as a result of battle.
If the horse has all four legs on the ground, the rider died of natural causes.
I'd heard of this practice of documenting the lives of military leaders before and decided to investigate. Could it be true? After some digging, I found that the oldest statue honoring a ruler is one of Emperor Marcus Aurelius on horseback in the Campidoglio at Rome. If you look at the statue, you'll see that one of the horse's front legs is raised. Unfortunately, Marcus Aurelius did not die as a result of battle. It seems that when the statue was first created, the figure of a barbarian was placed underneath the horse's raised hoof, where he cowered and hoped not to be crushed to death. At some point, the barbarian disappeared, leaving Aurelius's horse's hoof raised above the ground. Fascinating, but my quest was still on! (By the way, the reason this particular statue is still around is due to the fact that it was believed to be Emperor Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman Emperor. Otherwise, it more than likely would have been destroyed with the many other works of art deemed to be paganistic by early Christians.)
I decided to check out what Snopes had to say on the subject, which was not encouraging! Urban legend! I'm so disappointed!

It seems that I am left with the other equine fact I unearthed in my research. In Japan, it used to be a tradition in the Shinto religion to offer a horse to the temple of the gods. If one were hoping for precipitation, a black horse was given. If, however, one was desirous of clement weather, a white horse was the offering.
What's my conclusion? A horse, be it black or white, with its hoof raised above your head, must be terrifying!
Amelung, Walther, Holtzinger, Heinrich, and Strong, Eugenie. The Museums and Ruins of Rome.
Duckworth, 1906.Fargis, Paul, ed. dir. The New York Public Library Desk Reference, Third Edition. Macmillan, 1998.
Hall, James. Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art. Harper and Row, 1974.
Hall, James. Illustrated Dictionary of Symbols in Eastern and Western Art. Harper Collins, 1994.

1 comment:

  1. OK. So now I know that Andrew Jackson died in battle from his statue in Jackson Square. Cool!


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