« To give back the horse, the intelligence that rightly belongs to him » (Le Grand Ecuyer, François Baucher 1796-1873)
The paintings that you observe in the Lascaux’s cave are considered to be one of the first pieces of art in the world. They bear witness of the fascination that men hold for horses over decades . To the political elite and the first societies built in this world, horses always have been symbol of power. As a divine and heroic attribute, the horse becomes an instrument necessary for power which associates the look as well as its military power. Plutarch told the legend of Alexander the Great with his horse called Bucephalus, which participated in its kingdom’s rise, and has since been used again to comment on princes and young aristocrats’ education.
This balance between rider and horse symbolizes the natural link between governing and being governed. The horse is the allegory of power and its exercise.
In a lot of European monarchies and also Arabic ones, the horse is associated with celebrations and Court ceremonies. We interest ourselves in the upgrade of the races, we create stables, and we put the highlight on the horses. With equestrian art it develops by different art, ironwork, textiles, and leathers, destined to bring out the stature of the rider and the horse.
A king on a horse is an image of power by the dominant side of it; the king is in control of the horse. This is a metaphor on the leading of the state. The reference is the equestrian statue of Marc-Aurèle on the Capitol which is used as a model in the Middle Ages for the Charlemagne’s statue (which actually represents its grandson Charles). The bronze equestrian statue is then reintroduced in Italy during the 15th century, in the affirming of the mercenaries’ power.
The tradition arrives in France by Italian masters: Louis the 12th on a horse in a niche with flamboyant decoration in Blois, Francis the 1st and his son Henri the 2nd are the first to be represented alone on horses out of battles or ceremonial context. The developed formula during many years by the most famous portraitists is efficient, and has made its impact on minds and on centuries; it’ll be used again by Jacques Louis David to paint many portraits of Napoleon Bonaparte. The horse symbolizes a new form of majesty between triumph of personal will and incarnation of the State by popular approval.
The equestrian portrait of Henry the 4th has its role in the birth of a legend.
A piece of fabric on his right shoulder, floating on his back. He is wearing leggings in fabric which reminds us of metal leggings that soldiers were wearing in the Antiquity to protect themselves.
His left hand is holding the reins of a running horse. Embossed horse mane, thin neckline, head slightly tilted on the left, raised and knotted tail, powerful muscles, proud looks, this horse is to be appreciated as the model of aristocracy at the end of the 16th century. It is the figure of victorious and the peacemaker, but also an excellent horse rider.
Henry the 4th, prince without armor, on a running horse, with the background of the Seine and the Pont Neuf in Paris. We can think of “veni vidi vici” of Julius Caesar. Henry the 4th enters in the city to rule Paris. He has a smooth figure. The King on his white horse shows us the direction and shouts“Soldier, if you lose your way, look for my white plume, you will always find it on the way to honor and glory”. His bravery and his victory are increasing his popularity. Having the reputation of not allowing pillages and respect for churches, Henry is winning the hearts of Catholics (being Protestant himself). This painting shows the theatrical movement of a great king riding his horse.
The horse also deserves a very special attention; its mass and its authenticity are competing with the strong impression that leaves the painting on us. His head seems to obey any of the King’s commands
We appreciate This portrait of a good king and see, an excellent rider. A physiognomy particularly alive by the way it’s looking especially with the little smile on his face. He’s watching us. It’s a figure already fully committed to general memory. This painting is settling the issue between power (propaganda of good image) and art. This knight king will be copied by Louis the 14th and Napoleon the 1st.