3000 Years of the History of a Horseman on a Rearing Horse

Please tighten your girth, adjust your stirrups and prepare yourself for a ride through 3000 years of the history of a horseman on a rearing horse. We will see men, women and saints, from small (1 inch) to big (11 metres). There will be truly amazing objects and there will be parodies; some will be truly popular, others will provoke hatred and destruction. There will be truly original images and shameless imitations. There will famous, infamous and nameless riders; some will be headless, others will have spare heads. Many remarkable artists will create their versions of this image; if you are unsure how to tell the difference between Bellini, Cellini and Bernini, it should become very clear by the middle of our journey…

Relief sculpture of a soldier riding a horse, 10th-9th century BC, Aramean or Hittite, Tell Halaf, Syria
Relief sculpture of a soldier riding a horse, 10th-9th century BC, Aramean or Hittite, Tell Halaf, Syria
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Relief sculpture of a soldier riding a horse, 10th-9th century BC, Aramean or Hittite, Tell Halaf, Syria
Relief sculpture of a soldier riding a horse, 10th-9th century BC, Aramean or Hittite, Tell Halaf, Syria
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The image will originate in Ancient Middle East, and the beginnings will be rather humble: some petroglyphs and very unsophisticated relief sculptures of a barefoot soldier on a horseback holding a club that was once decoraing a palace of an Aramean king Kapara. Then it will grow in beauty and sophistication, will be adopted in Ancient Greece, then return to the East, then reemerge in Europe during Renaissance, spread throughout the continent, then on the Americas, Asia and Africa. It will prove to be time-resilient; each country and époque will adopt it in its own, very unique way. Some very important historical events will appear in the background: Thirty Years war, colonisation of the Americas, the Northern war, liberation of Serbia from Turkey, American revolution, Napoleonic wars, a fight for the independence of India and a battle for the unification of Italy. We will see that in the 21st century it is as popular as ever… But let us start from the beginning. First stop: Assyria.

Assyria

According to the Ashmolean Museum, horses were first mentioned in Eastern written sources in cr. 2100 BC. Initially they were used to pull the wheeled vehicles, but in the 1st milllenium BC there was a shift towards cavalry.

Gypsum wall panel relief showing an Assyrian officials in a chariot pursue enemy horsemen,865 BC-860 BC, Neo-Assyrian (Iraq)
Gypsum wall panel relief showing an Assyrian officials in a chariot pursue enemy horsemen,
865 BC-860 BC, Neo-Assyrian (Iraq)
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Gypsum wall panel relief showing Assyrian cavalry and infantry attacking the enemy,865 BC-860 BC, Neo-Assyrian (Iraq)
Gypsum wall panel relief showing Assyrian cavalry and infantry attacking the enemy,
865 BC-860 BC, Neo-Assyrian (Iraq)
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The Balawat Gates, bronze band depicting Shalmaneser III's campaign in Syria,858 BC-824 BC, Neo-Assyrian (Iraq)
The Balawat Gates,
bronze band depicting Shalmaneser III's campaign in Syria,
858 BC-824 BC, Neo-Assyrian (Iraq)
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Cylinder seal depiciting a stag hunting, 800 BC-750 BC, Neo-Assyrian (Iraq)
Cylinder seal depiciting a stag hunting,
800 BC-750 BC, Neo-Assyrian (Iraq)
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Wall panel relief depicting a horseman attacked by two mounted Assyrians, cr. 728 BC, Neo-Assyrian (Iraq)
Wall panel relief depicting a horseman attacked by two mounted Assyrians,
cr. 728 BC, Neo-Assyrian (Iraq)
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Wall panel relief depicting two Assyrian cavalrymen charging against enemies, cr. 728 BC, Neo-Assyrian (Iraq)
Wall panel relief depicting two Assyrian cavalrymen charging against enemies,
cr. 728 BC, Neo-Assyrian (Iraq)
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King Ashurbanipal killing a lion, 645-35 BC, Neo-Assyrian (Iraq)
King Ashurbanipal killing a lion,
645-35 BC, Neo-Assyrian (Iraq)
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King Ashurbanipal aiming an arrow, 645-35 BC, Neo-Assyrian (Iraq)
King Ashurbanipal aiming an arrow,
645-35 BC, Neo-Assyrian (Iraq)
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King Ashurbanipal‘s reliefs are perhaps the most famous and interesting of all these objects; the craftsmanship is astonishing. The lion hunt, the central theme of these reliefs, was double symbolic meaning. Firstly, it was to emphasize the bravery and the king’s supreme horsemanship and archery skill, the supreme virtues of a ruler by the standards of the time. The second meaning was to show that the king protects his people from the predator animals, that were also associated with the evil demons. We will see that the equestrian lion hunt will fascinate many artists and patrons for the years to come: we will see it on the sword-sheath from Oxus Treasure, on Alexander the Great‘s sarcophagus, on the painting “The Lion Hunt” by Peter Paul Rubens etc.

Elam and Achaemenid Persia

The earliest Persian region riders on rearing horses I could find are on numerous seals (mostly Cylinder seals) depicting a king (?) hunting a stag or a lion. We can see, that despite the time gap between Elam and Achaemenid Empire, the artistic tradition remained unaffected to the point that it is not always possible to determine if a particular seal is Neo-Elamite or Achaemenid.

Cylinder seal depicting hunting, cr. 10th-5th century BC, Neo-Elamite II (?)
Cylinder seal depicting hunting,
cr. 10th-5th century BC, Neo-Elamite II (?)
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Cylinder seal depicting hunting, cr. 10th-5th century BC, Neo-Elamite II or Achaemenid (?)
Cylinder seal depicting hunting,
cr. 10th-5th century BC, Neo-Elamite II or Achaemenid (?)
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Cylinder seal depicting hunting,cr. 8th-7th century BC, Neo-Elamite II
Cylinder seal depicting hunting,
cr. 8th-7th century BC, Neo-Elamite II
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Stamp-seal depicting hunting, cr. 6th-4th century BC, Achaemenid (?)
Stamp-seal depicting hunting,
cr. 6th-4th century BC, Achaemenid (?)
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Cylinder seals depicting hunting, cr. 750 BC-300 BC
Cylinder seals depicting hunting,
cr. 750 BC-300 BC
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Cylinder seal with a scene of a rider in Median dress with a spear and a dog chasing a fallow deer, 538 BC-331 BC
Cylinder seal with a scene of a rider in Median dress with a spear and a dog chasing a fallow deer,
538 BC-331 BC
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Two horsemen and a hound attack stags, ??, Greco-Persian
Two horsemen and a hound attack stags,
??, Greco-Persian
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Scaraboid stamp seal with a scene of a rider, possibly a king, in Median dress galloping towards the right and spearing a boar, 5th - 4th century BC
Scaraboid stamp seal with a scene of a rider, possibly a king, in Median dress galloping towards the right and spearing a boar,
5th - 4th century BC
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Two later objects, part of Oxus Treasure, contain somewhat more elaborate depictions of the riders on the rearing horses, again in the context of hunting.

Shield-ornament (?), 4th century BC (?), Achaemenid, Persia, Oxus Treasure
Shield-ornament (?),
4th century BC (?), Achaemenid, Persia, Oxus Treasure
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Sword-sheath depiciting a lion hunt, 5th century BC (?), Achaemenid, Persia, Oxus Treasure
Sword-sheath depiciting a lion hunt,
5th century BC (?), Achaemenid, Persia, Oxus Treasure
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The next two objects were made in Greece, yet they depict Persian horsemen spearing Greek foot soldiers. Perhaps they were made in Greek territories colonised by Persians. The origin of the third object is unclear. However, given the similarity of subject, technique and production time, it is possible that these three objects belong together. The fourth object is a coin, silver tetradrachm, with the depiction of a satrap on a rearing horse. It is a clearer example of Greek workmanship that depicts Persian subject: it is made in Cyprus, an island originally populated by Greeks, and colonised by Persians, and depicts a ruler, a satrap, who was serving Persian empire.

Black jasper scarabaeoid seal: Persian Horseman Slaying a Greek foot soldier with a Spear, 2nd half of the 5th century, Greek/Ionian
Black jasper scarabaeoid seal: Persian Horseman Slaying a Greek foot soldier with a Spear,
2nd half of the 5th century, Greek/Ionian
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Plasma scarabaeoid seal: Persian Horseman Slaying a Greek with a Spear, cr. 450-400 BC, Greek/Ionian
Plasma scarabaeoid seal: Persian Horseman Slaying a Greek with a Spear,
cr. 450-400 BC, Greek/Ionian
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Chalcedony scarabaeoid seal: Persian Horseman Slaying a Hoplite with a Spear, First half of the 4th century BC, ?
Chalcedony scarabaeoid seal: Persian Horseman Slaying a Hoplite with a Spear,
First half of the 4th century BC, ?
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Silver tetradrachm of Evagoras II Salamis of Cyprus with satrap on horseback, 368–346 BC, Cyprus
Silver tetradrachm of Evagoras II Salamis of Cyprus with satrap on horseback,
368–346 BC, Cyprus
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Lycian sarcophagus, end of 5th centuy BC, Chamber no. IV of the royal necropolis of Sidon, modern Lebanon
Lycian sarcophagus,
end of 5th centuy BC, Chamber no. IV of the royal necropolis of Sidon, modern Lebanon
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Clearer examples of interaction between Greek and Persian cultures are the funeral monuments erected in Persian provinces: they were of Persian types, much larger and more impressive than Greek funerary stelae, and the bas-reliefs that decorate them are made by Greek artists in typically Greek style.

There were three types of Persian tombs: pillar tombs, gothic-arched sarcofagi and temple tombs.

An example of a gothic-arched sarcofagus is a Lycian sarcophagus that was found in Sidon, modern Lebanon; it has traditional Lycian shape (Lycia was a kingdom located in modern Turkey, part of Persian Achaemenid Empire when this sarcophagus was produced) and the scultural decoration was done in style of Greek Peloponnese!

The Nereid Monument, build around 390-380 BC at Xantos, also in Lycia, is the first known example of a temple tomb. Most of the subjects depicted on these reliefs are typically Greek, but the architrave frieze shows a bear hunt scene, with a mounted hunter, which is typically Persian.

The reconstructed façade of the Nereid Monument, cr. 390-380 BC, classical Greek
The reconstructed façade of the Nereid Monument,
cr. 390-380 BC, classical Greek
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Detail of the  the first frieze of the Nereid monument showing heroic combats, cr. 390-380 BC, classical Greek
Detail of the the first frieze of the Nereid monument showing heroic combats,
cr. 390-380 BC, classical Greek
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Detail of the  the first frieze of the Nereid monument showing heroic combats, cr. 390-380 BC, classical Greek
Detail of the the first frieze of the Nereid monument showing heroic combats,
cr. 390-380 BC, classical Greek
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Detail of the architrave frieze of the Nereid Monument showing a dynast at the bear hunt, cr. 390-380 BC, classical Greek
Detail of the architrave frieze of the Nereid Monument showing a dynast at the bear hunt,
cr. 390-380 BC, classical Greek
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The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, is the greatest example of a temple tomb. It was built between 353 and 350 BC at Halicarnassus (present Bodrum, Turkey) for Mausolus, a satrap in the Persian Empire, and his sister-wife. Even though Persians were arch-enemies of Greeks, Mausolus spoke Greek and admired the Greek way of life and government, so he invited Greek architects Satyros and Pythius of Priene to design his tomb. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by earthquakes, and we don’t know exactly what it looked like, but some authentic reliefs have survived.

House of the Temple in Washington, D.C., 1911-5, design based on mausoleum at Halicarnassus
House of the Temple in Washington, D.C.,
1911-5, design based on mausoleum at Halicarnassus
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Detail of the Amazon Frieze of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, cr. 350 BC, Pytheos (?), classical Greek
Detail of the Amazon Frieze of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus,
cr. 350 BC, Pytheos (?), classical Greek
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Detail of the Amazon Frieze of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, cr. 350 BC, Pytheos (?), classical Greek
Detail of the Amazon Frieze of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus,
cr. 350 BC, Pytheos (?), classical Greek
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Detail of the Amazon Frieze of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, cr. 350 BC, Pytheos (?), classical Greek
Detail of the Amazon Frieze of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus,
cr. 350 BC, Pytheos (?), classical Greek
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Finally, there are two tiles, discovered in Asia Minor at the end of the 6th century BC when this territory was part of Persian empire. The imagery and the technique are very Greek.

Tile with a winged griffon and a horseman, 6th century BC, Asia Minor
Tile with a winged griffon and a horseman,
6th century BC, Asia Minor
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Tile with a winged griffon and a horseman, 6th century BC, Asia Minor
Tile with a winged griffon and a horseman,
6th century BC, Asia Minor
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Bellerophon

Bellerophon was probably the first named rider on a rearing horse. He is depicted on a rearing horse named Pegasus. This part of the exposé is, unlike the others, shows one specific character across different cultures: from 7th century BC Greece to 21st century China, passing through Etruria, Roman Republic and Roman Empire, Byzanthium, Visigothic culture, Renaissance Siena, Prussia, Baroque Venice and the United Kingdom in World War II. As such, it serves to give the taste for the variety of cultures, styles and media we will encounter as this exposé unfolds.

Oil flask (aryballos) with Bellerophon attacking the Chimaera, cr. 650 BC, Corinth, Greece
Oil flask (aryballos) with Bellerophon attacking the Chimaera,
cr. 650 BC, Corinth, Greece
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Plate with a depiction of Chimera and Bellerophon on Pegasus, cr. 650 BC, Thasos, Ancient Greece
Plate with a depiction of Chimera and Bellerophon on Pegasus,
cr. 650 BC, Thasos, Ancient Greece
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Cup with Bellerophon riding Pegasos and attacking the Chimaera, 2nd quarter of the 6th century BC, Attic, Ancient Greece
Cup with Bellerophon riding Pegasos and attacking the Chimaera,
2nd quarter of the 6th century BC, Attic, Ancient Greece
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Bellerophon and the Chimera, edge of an epinetron (thigh-protector used by a woman when weaving), cr. 425-420 BC, Attic, Ancient Greece
Bellerophon and the Chimera, edge of an epinetron (thigh-protector used by a woman when weaving),
cr. 425-420 BC, Attic, Ancient Greece
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Carnelian scarab and gold finger engraved with Bellerophon and the Chimaera, late 5th century BC, Etruscan
Carnelian scarab and gold finger engraved with Bellerophon and the Chimaera,
late 5th century BC, Etruscan
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Bellerophon on Pegasus killing Chimaera, mosaic floor house, 432-348 BC,  Olynthos, Chalkidiki, Greece
Bellerophon on Pegasus killing Chimaera, mosaic floor house,
432-348 BC, Olynthos, Chalkidiki, Greece
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Gilt silver kylix with Bellerophon riding Pegasos and attacking the Chimaera, late 5th century BC, Greek
Gilt silver kylix with Bellerophon riding Pegasos and attacking the Chimaera,
late 5th century BC, Greek
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Scaraboid with Bellerophon riding Pegasos and attacking the Chimaera, 400–375 BC, Greek
Scaraboid with Bellerophon riding Pegasos and attacking the Chimaera,
400–375 BC, Greek
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Calyx krater with Bellerophon, cr. 370 BC, Faliscan/Etruscan
Calyx krater with Bellerophon,
cr. 370 BC, Faliscan/Etruscan
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Fragment of an Oinochoe with Bellerophon mounted on Pegasus (white) attacking the Chimaera, cr. 350–340 BC, Italy, Apulia (Greek culture)
Fragment of an Oinochoe with Bellerophon mounted on Pegasus (white) attacking the Chimaera,
cr. 350–340 BC, Italy, Apulia (Greek culture)
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Plate with Bellerophon and Pegassus, cr. 350-300 BC, Apulia, Italy (Greek culture)
Plate with Bellerophon and Pegassus,
cr. 350-300 BC, Apulia, Italy (Greek culture)
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Red-figure calyx krater with Bellerophon killing the Chimaera, late 4th century BC, Etruscan/Late Faliscan
Red-figure calyx krater with Bellerophon killing the Chimaera,
late 4th century BC, Etruscan/Late Faliscan
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Pebble mosaic depicting Bellerophon killing Chimaera, cr. 300-270 BC, Rhodos (Greece)
Pebble mosaic depicting Bellerophon killing Chimaera,
cr. 300-270 BC, Rhodos (Greece)
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Mosaic depicting Bellerophon on rearing Pegasus trampling Chimaera, 2nd hald of 2nd century BC, Autun, France (Roman culture)
Mosaic depicting Bellerophon on rearing Pegasus trampling Chimaera,
2nd hald of 2nd century BC, Autun, France (Roman culture)
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Bellerophon on Pegasus, slaying the Chimera, cr. 260 AD, Palmyra, Syria (Roman culture)
Bellerophon on Pegasus, slaying the Chimera,
cr. 260 AD, Palmyra, Syria (Roman culture)
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Bellerophon mounted on Pegasus killing the Chimera, cr. 330-360 AD, Lullingstone Villa, Kent, U.K. (Roman culture)
Bellerophon mounted on Pegasus killing the Chimera,
cr. 330-360 AD, Lullingstone Villa, Kent, U.K. (Roman culture)
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Hanging known as Sabine's shawl depicting Bellerophon trampling Chimera, 4th-5th century, Coptic
Hanging known as Sabine's shawl depicting Bellerophon trampling Chimera,
4th-5th century, Coptic
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Ivory panel depicting Bellerophon slaying the Chimaera, 5th century, Late Roman
Ivory panel depicting Bellerophon slaying the Chimaera,
5th century, Late Roman
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Silver Medallion representing Bellerophon killing a Chimera, 5th-7th century AD, European (Visigothic?)
Silver Medallion representing Bellerophon killing a Chimera,
5th-7th century AD, European (Visigothic?)
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Plaquette with Bellerophon and the Chimera, cr. 1475-80, Francesco di Giorgio, Siena (Italy)
Plaquette with Bellerophon and the Chimera,
cr. 1475-80, Francesco di Giorgio, Siena (Italy)
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Cast bronze medal with the bust of Philip II of Spain and (reverse) Bellerophon on a rearing Pegasus, spearing the Chimaera, 1556, Gianpaolo Poggini, Spain
Cast bronze medal with the bust of Philip II of Spain and (reverse) Bellerophon on a rearing Pegasus, spearing the Chimaera,
1556, Gianpaolo Poggini, Spain
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The Great Elector as Saint Georgeand Bellerophon, 1680, Gottfried Leygebe, Prussia
The Great Elector as Saint George
and Bellerophon,
1680, Gottfried Leygebe, Prussia
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The Force of Eloquence, cr. 1723, 	Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Venice (Italy)
The Force of Eloquence,
cr. 1723,
Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Venice (Italy)
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Coat of arms of the British airborne units depicting Bellerophon on Pegasus, 1941, British, Daphne du Maurier (?)
Coat of arms of the British airborne units depicting Bellerophon on Pegasus,
1941, British, Daphne du Maurier (?)
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Bellerophon Battles Chimaera, 2011, Hermine Wang, China
Bellerophon Battles Chimaera,
2011, Hermine Wang, China
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Bellerophon was also one of the first horsemen on rearing horses to feature on coins. According to Sam Heijnen, the myth had always been present on Corinthian coinage when Corinth, the supposed birthplace of Bellerophon, was independent, and would remain so at least until the reign of Septimius Severus (193-211 CE). We can also see him on the coins of other Greek territories and, later on, on Roman coins minted outside Greece.

Trihemidrachm with Bellerophon on Pegasus, 430-405 BC, Corinth, Greek culture
Trihemidrachm with Bellerophon on Pegasus,
430-405 BC, Corinth, Greek culture
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Didrachme with Bellerophon on Pegasus, cr. 395-390 BC, Fenserni, Campania, Italy
Didrachme with Bellerophon on Pegasus,
cr. 395-390 BC, Fenserni, Campania, Italy
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Trihemidrachm of Corinth with Bellerophon riding Pegasus, 338–280 BC, Corinth, Greek culture
Trihemidrachm of Corinth with Bellerophon riding Pegasus,
338–280 BC, Corinth, Greek culture
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Silver denarius, reverse shows Bellerophon on Pegasus brandishing spear, 74 BC, Rome, Roman Republic
Silver denarius,
reverse shows Bellerophon on Pegasus brandishing spear,
74 BC, Rome, Roman Republic
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Bronze as with Julius Caesar and Bellerophon, 44-43 BC, Corinth, Roman culture
Bronze as with Julius Caesar and Bellerophon,
44-43 BC, Corinth, Roman culture
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Coin with head of Aphrodite, struck under Q. Caecilius Niger and C. Heius Pamphilus, 34–31 BC, Corinth, Roman culture
Coin with head of Aphrodite, struck under Q. Caecilius Niger and C. Heius Pamphilus,
34–31 BC, Corinth, Roman culture
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Trihemidrachme with Bellerophon on Pegasus, cr. 4 BC, Corinth, Roman culture
Trihemidrachme with Bellerophon on Pegasus,
cr. 4 BC, Corinth, Roman culture
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Bronze coin with Bellerophon on Pegasus, 161-169 AD, Corinth, Roman culture
Bronze coin with Bellerophon on Pegasus,
161-169 AD, Corinth, Roman culture
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Coin with bust of Severus Alexander, reverse shows Bellerophon on Pegasus brandishing spear, 222–235 AD, Thyatira, Lydia (modern Turkey), Roman culture
Coin with bust of Severus Alexander, reverse shows Bellerophon on Pegasus brandishing spear,
222–235 AD, Thyatira, Lydia (modern Turkey), Roman culture
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Etruria

Horsemen on the rearing horses were making occasional appearance in the art of Etruria. It appears that it was where the horsewomen on rearing horses have made their debute appearance. It is interesting to note that, although the British museum and the Metropolitan museum forward-facing riders figurines are very similar, the British museum consider them female (Amazons) whereas the Metropolitan museum considers them male. Luckily, the gender identification of the rider on the antefix is beyond any doubt.

Later on, cinerary urn were replaced with the sarcophagi depicting the scenes with the horsemen that indicate strong influence of Greek culture.

Sarcophagus and lid with husband and wife with two pairs of horsemen and foot soldiers in combat, 350–300 BC, Italian/Etruscan
Sarcophagus and lid with husband and wife with two pairs of horsemen and foot soldiers in combat,
350–300 BC, Italian/Etruscan
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Sarcophagus of a woman with horsemen and foot soldiers in combat, cr. end of 2nd century BC, Italian/Etruscan
Sarcophagus of a woman with horsemen and foot soldiers in combat,
cr. end of 2nd century BC, Italian/Etruscan
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Ancient Greece

The earliest Greek horsemen of a rearing hourses I could find are the depiction of anonymous sportsmen and warriors on Greek vessels. Predictably, the majority is warfare-related. We can see the battles of the gods of Ancient Greece such as Poseidon, the mythological heroes such as Odysseus, Troilos and Achilles. But most depict the fighting of anonymous Greek warriors against Thracians, Scythians and, especially, Amazons (but, interestingly, not Persians). One can observe that Amazons frequently wear Scythian trousers. This is because, based on a myth, Amazons and Scythians are closely linked. The reason why Thracians’ clothing is identical to Scythians’ (see situla with Odysseus below) is unclear.

Olpe with the depiction of a two horsemen,cr. 575-550 BC, Corinthian
Olpe with the depiction of a two horsemen,
cr. 575-550 BC, Corinthian
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Dinos with the depiction of a horse races and Amazonomachy,6th century BC, Attic
Dinos with the depiction of a horse races and Amazonomachy,
6th century BC, Attic
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Amphora with attle scene in which a hoplite, or heavily armed infantryman, falls to the ground between two cavalrymen,cr. 530-520 BC, Attic
Amphora with attle scene in which a hoplite, or heavily armed infantryman, falls to the ground between two cavalrymen,
cr. 530-520 BC, Attic
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Amphora with Achilles and Penthesilea,cr. 520 BC, Vulci (Attic production ?)
Amphora with Achilles and Penthesilea,
cr. 520 BC, Vulci (Attic production ?)
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Amphora with two armed horsemen clash on the battlefield, their horses rearing above a fallen warrior trapped beneath them,cr. 520 BC, Attica
Amphora with two armed horsemen clash on the battlefield, their horses rearing above a fallen warrior trapped beneath them,
cr. 520 BC, Attica
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Oinochoe with the depiction of mounted warriors trampling a Scythian archer,cr. 510 BC, Attica
Oinochoe with the depiction of mounted warriors trampling a Scythian archer,
cr. 510 BC, Attica
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Neck-amphora with the depiction of mounted warriors trampling an Amazon,cr. 510 BC-500 BC, Attica
Neck-amphora with the depiction of mounted warriors trampling an Amazon,
cr. 510 BC-500 BC, Attica
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Neck-amphora with the depiction of a combat on an Amazone and a hoplite,cr. 500-490 BC, Attica
Neck-amphora with the depiction of a combat on an Amazone and a hoplite,
cr. 500-490 BC, Attica
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Bell krater showing a battle of two Amazons and one Greek,cr. 440 BC, Attica
Bell krater showing a battle of two Amazons and one Greek,
cr. 440 BC, Attica
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Red-figured Amphora Showing An Amazon on Horseback, 440 BC, Attica
Red-figured Amphora Showing An Amazon on Horseback,
440 BC, Attica
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Dinos with the depiction of a combat of Attic heroes with Amazons,440 BC-430 BC, Attica
Dinos with the depiction of a combat of Attic heroes with Amazons,
440 BC-430 BC, Attica
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Amphora with the depiction of Amazonomachy,435-415 BC, painted by Aison
Amphora with the depiction of Amazonomachy,
435-415 BC, painted by Aison
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Column-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water),cr. 430 BC, Attica, attributed to the Marlay Painter
Column-krater (bowl for mixing wine and water),
cr. 430 BC, Attica, attributed to the Marlay Painter
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Red-figured Krater showing a Warrior and an Amazon, 430-420 BC, Apulia
Red-figured Krater showing a Warrior and an Amazon,
430-420 BC, Apulia
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Bell krater showing a horseman crowned by Nike,cr. 420 BC, Attic
Bell krater showing a horseman crowned by Nike,
cr. 420 BC, Attic
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Amphora known as the amphora of Milo: gigantomachy, including the depiction of Poseidon on a rearing horse,410-400 BC, Attica, attributed to painter of Suessula
Amphora known as the amphora of Milo: gigantomachy, including the depiction of Poseidon on a rearing horse,
410-400 BC, Attica, attributed to painter of Suessula
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Bell krater showing a battle of Troilos and Achilles,cr. 380–370 BC, the Hoppin Painter, Apulia
Bell krater showing a battle of Troilos and Achilles,
cr. 380–370 BC, the Hoppin Painter, Apulia
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Oinochoe showing a horseman and an amphora showing a horseman,beginning of the 4th century BC, Attic
Oinochoe showing a horseman and an amphora showing a horseman,
beginning of the 4th century BC, Attic
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Red-figured Pelike Showing a Fight of an Amazon on Horseback with a Gryphon, Third quarter of the 4th century BC, Attica
Red-figured Pelike Showing a Fight of an Amazon on Horseback with a Gryphon,
Third quarter of the 4th century BC, Attica
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Hydria with Greeks fighting a mounted Persian, 365-350 BC, Attic
Hydria with Greeks fighting a mounted Persian,
365-350 BC, Attic
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Situla with Odysseus (wearing the pilos hat) and Diomedes stealing the horses of Thracian king Rhesus they have just killed, 360 BC, Apulia
Situla with Odysseus (wearing the pilos hat) and Diomedes stealing the horses of Thracian king Rhesus they have just killed,
360 BC, Apulia
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Red-figured Pelike: Arimasp Fighting a Gryphon and Two Mantled Youths, 360-350 BC, Attica
Red-figured Pelike: Arimasp Fighting a Gryphon and Two Mantled Youths,
360-350 BC, Attica
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Situla with an Amazonomachy scene, 340–330 BC, Apulia
Situla with an Amazonomachy scene,
340–330 BC, Apulia
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Pitcher (oinochoe) with battle of the Greeks and Amazons,about 320–310 BC, Apulia
Pitcher (oinochoe) with battle of the Greeks and Amazons,
about 320–310 BC, Apulia
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Falaieff with the depiction of a combat on an Amazone and two griffons,4th century BC, Attica
Falaieff with the depiction of a combat on an Amazone and two griffons,
4th century BC, Attica
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Drinking cup (kylix) with the depiction of an Arimaspean on horseback and a griffin, cr. 4th century BC, Attica
Drinking cup (kylix) with the depiction of an Arimaspean on horseback and a griffin,
cr. 4th century BC, Attica
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One could also find a few vessels which decoration is related to Panathenaic Games.

Panathenaic amphora, cr. 510 BC, Attica, attributed to the Leagros Group
Panathenaic amphora,
cr. 510 BC, Attica, attributed to the Leagros Group
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Panathenaic amphora, cr. 500 BC-490 BC, Attica, attributed to the Eucharides Painter
Panathenaic amphora,
cr. 500 BC-490 BC, Attica, attributed to the Eucharides Painter
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Neck-amphora with keles(?) scene, cr. 450 BC-430 BC, Attica, attributed to Polygnotos
Neck-amphora with keles(?) scene,
cr. 450 BC-430 BC, Attica, attributed to Polygnotos
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Panathenaic amphora, cr. 425 BC-400 BC, Attica, attributed to the Kuban Group
Panathenaic amphora,
cr. 425 BC-400 BC, Attica, attributed to the Kuban Group
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Parthenon Frieze, sculpted between c. 443 and 438 BC, depicts many horseman (43 out of 121 blocks); and most of them have rearing horses. This is expected, since the subject of the relief that decorates the frieze are two (separate) processions, one of them is a Panathenaic Games procession. The other procession is war-related. As such, Parthenon frieze combines both major themes of the horsemen on the rearing horses of Ancient Greece.

West Frieze of the Parthenon, drawing by Marion Cox, taken from 'Greek Sculpture Classical Period' by John Boardman
West Frieze of the Parthenon,
drawing by Marion Cox,
taken from 'Greek Sculpture Classical Period' by John Boardman
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West Frieze of the Parthenon, Block II, 438 BC-432 BC, Athens
West Frieze of the Parthenon, Block II,
438 BC-432 BC, Athens
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West Frieze of the Parthenon, Block X, 438 BC-432 BC, Athens
West Frieze of the Parthenon, Block X,
438 BC-432 BC, Athens
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West Frieze of the Parthenon, 'Restored' using 3D imagery block X,2014, Athens
West Frieze of the Parthenon, 'Restored' using 3D imagery block X,
2014, Athens
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One could also expect some depiction of Greek hunters on rearing horses, but these are virtually unexistent. I have only found three objects with such depictions. All of them have some Persian connections. The first object, kantharos, uses the iconography that was only used by Persians at the time. Also, it was made in Beotia, the region in Ancient Greece that assisted the invaders during the Persian invasion of 480 BC; one could assume that Beotia had prior contacts with Persia. The next of is a fragment of sarcophagus made in Klazomenai, Greek region conquered by Persians. The last two objects, lekythos, both feature the depictions of the hunting scenes. Hallie Malcolm Franks suggests that the image that shows Persians hunting deers, griffons and a boar among other game is no less than a fictionalized account of Persian conquest, in which the borders of the empire have reached the edges of the earth, the eschata. I could not find much about the fourth object, but similarity of style and depicted subject, as well as the proximity of times of creation, allows us to think that these two lekythos are related.

Kantharos with the depiction of two horsemen with spears and dog hunting stag, mid-6th century BC, Boeotian
Kantharos with the depiction of two horsemen with spears and dog hunting stag,
mid-6th century BC, Boeotian
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Fragment of Klazomenian painted terracotta sarcophagus with youths riding horses below which run dogs, late 6th century BC, Klazomenian (modern Turkey)
Fragment of Klazomenian painted terracotta sarcophagus with youths riding horses below which run dogs,
late 6th century BC, Klazomenian (modern Turkey)
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Lekythos with Boar Hunt, ca. 380 BC, signed Xenophantos the Athenian
Lekythos with Boar Hunt,
ca. 380 BC, signed Xenophantos the Athenian
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Relief Lekythos with Hunting Scene, early 4th century BC, ?
Relief Lekythos with Hunting Scene,
early 4th century BC, ?
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However, there are two Greek amphorae that feature an image of a hunt, with a hound underneath the horse, yet there is no obvious connection to Persia. One was made in the 6th century BC in Reggio di Calabria, one of the oldest Greek colonies in southern Italy and an important maritime and commercial city as well as a cultural centre. There were other amphoras with horsemen produced in the same location at about the same time, which imagery is clearly Greek.

The other one was made in Attica, and depicts Dioscuri brothers’ hunting. The depiction of the horsemen is strikingly similar to what we see on the sarcophagus from Klazomenai (just above).

One could imagine that Persian motives were due to cultural or commercial contacts, either direct or indirect, through Greek territories colonised by Persia.

Amphora with horse riders, a man, a snake and two roosters,cr. 560-540 BC, Reggio di Calabria
Amphora with horse riders, a man, a snake and two roosters,
cr. 560-540 BC, Reggio di Calabria
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Amphora with horse riders, cr. 560-540 BC, Reggio di Calabria
Amphora with horse riders,
cr. 560-540 BC, Reggio di Calabria
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Amphora with horse riders, cr. 560-530 BC, Reggio di Calabria
Amphora with horse riders,
cr. 560-530 BC, Reggio di Calabria
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Amphora with horse riders, cr. 560-540 BC, Reggio di Calabria
Amphora with horse riders,
cr. 560-540 BC, Reggio di Calabria
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Amphora with the Dioscuri on horseback, Attic, cr. 500 BC
Amphora with the Dioscuri on horseback,
Attic, cr. 500 BC
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The next type of objects are sculptured funerary stelae. Very few of them featured horsemen. One stela was created to commemorate Dexileos, a 20 years old Athenian horseman who died in a Battle of Nemea fought against Sparta in 394 BC. This depiction is the first horseman on a rearing horse who is a real person, with known name, of non-royal origin. In addition, this stela seems to make Ancient Greece the only culture where the first depiction of a real person on a rearing horse is not of a royal but of a commoner!

Funerary stella found near Athens, 4th century BC, Attic
Funerary stella found near Athens,
4th century BC, Attic
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Funerary stella of Aristokles found near Athens, cr. 350 BC, Attic
Funerary stella of Aristokles found near Athens,
cr. 350 BC, Attic
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Funerary stella found near Pelinna, cr. 350-340 BC, Thessaly
Funerary stella found near Pelinna,
cr. 350-340 BC, Thessaly
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Pelinna was an ancient Greek city that gained particular prominence in the 4th century BC through its alliance with Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. Ancient Thessaly, the region Pelinna belonged to, was also famous for horse-rearing. This explains why the motif of the horseman was often used for its coinage.

Drachm with a horse and a rider,cr. 450–400 BC, Pelinna, Thessaly
Drachm with a horse and a rider,
cr. 450–400 BC, Pelinna, Thessaly
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Drachm with head of Athena, signed by Telephantos,cr. 425–405 BC, Pharsalos, Thessaly
Drachm with head of Athena, signed by Telephantos,
cr. 425–405 BC, Pharsalos, Thessaly
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Drachm with galloping bull,cr. 370 BC, Larissa, Thessaly
Drachm with galloping bull,
cr. 370 BC, Larissa, Thessaly
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Stater with head of Hekate, struck under Alexander, cr. 369–357 BC, Pherai, Thessaly
Stater with head of Hekate, struck under Alexander,
cr. 369–357 BC, Pherai, Thessaly
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From iconographical perspective, the most interesting Thessalian coin is the humble bronze Pelinnian chalkous, the smallest, cheapest coin: it often features a horseman on a rearing horse striking fallen enemy hoplite.

Another Greek place that minted coins with horsemen on rearing horses was Taras (modern day Taranto) in Apulia, southern Italy. In ancient times, around 500 BC, this Spartan colony was one of the largest city in the world, with population estimates up to 300,000 people. During the 4th century BC it was a centre of a thriving decorated Greek pottery industry; we have seen some examples of it, with the depictions of the horsemen, above. Their coins tend to have Taras, the founder of the city, astride dolphin on the reverse; obverse very often feature horsemen on rearing horses.

Stater  with rider vaulting from horse,420–380 BC, Taras, Apulia
Stater with rider vaulting from horse,
420–380 BC, Taras, Apulia
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Nommos with horse and rider,cr. 390 BC, Taras, Apulia
Nommos with horse and rider,
cr. 390 BC, Taras, Apulia
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Stater with rider vaulting from horse,380–344 BC, Taras, Apulia
Stater with rider vaulting from horse,
380–344 BC, Taras, Apulia
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Stater struck under Philokles,302–281 BC, Taras, Apulia
Stater struck under Philokles,
302–281 BC, Taras, Apulia
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Stater with warrior on horseback crowned by Victory, struck under Kallikrates,cr. 240–228 BC, Taras, Apulia
Stater with warrior on horseback crowned by Victory, struck under Kallikrates,
cr. 240–228 BC, Taras, Apulia
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Many other Greek poleis would occasionally depict the horsemen on the rearing horses on their coins, althiugh it would not be systematic and horse-driven chariots would be seen more frequently. Two very imaginative coins show a fish underneath the horse.

Stater with youth riding horse,450–400 BC, Kelenderis, Cilicia
Stater with youth riding horse,
450–400 BC, Kelenderis, Cilicia
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Drachm with horseman hurling spear, cr. 450 BC, Aspendos, Pamphylia
Drachm with horseman hurling spear,
cr. 450 BC, Aspendos, Pamphylia
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Stater with horse and rider above tunny fish, cr. 460–400 BC, Kyzikos, Mysia
Stater with horse and rider above tunny fish,
cr. 460–400 BC, Kyzikos, Mysia
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Silver tetradrachm of Evagoras II Salamis of Cyprus with satrap on horseback, 368–346 BC, Cyprus
Silver tetradrachm of Evagoras II Salamis of Cyprus with satrap on horseback,
368–346 BC, Cyprus
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Alexander The Great And Hellenistic World

Time went by, and democracy was succeeded by tyranny. Alexander the Great was often represented on a rearing horse, with a spear. This iconography was developed during his lifetime and is used to these days. It is noteworthy that only three horses in this story have a name, and Alexander’s horse is one of them. His name is Bucephalus; he was reared in Ancient Thessaly.

Silver decadrachm of Alexander the Great showing him (?) attacking enemies riding an elephant, cr. 324 BC
Silver decadrachm of Alexander the Great showing him (?) attacking enemies riding an elephant,
cr. 324 BC
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Detail of the Alexander Sarcophagus, circa 320 BC
Detail of the Alexander Sarcophagus,
circa 320 BC
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Detail of the Alexander Sarcophagus, circa 320 BC, painted replica
Detail of the Alexander Sarcophagus,
circa 320 BC, painted replica
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Coin with male head, struck in the name of Alexander the Great, cr. 316–297 BC, Macedonia
Coin with male head, struck in the name of Alexander the Great,
cr. 316–297 BC, Macedonia
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Detail of the Alexander the Great Mosaic, circa 100 BC, Pompeii
Detail of the Alexander the Great Mosaic,
circa 100 BC, Pompeii
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Alexander the Great on Horseback, 100-1 BC, Roman
Alexander the Great on Horseback,
100-1 BC, Roman
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The Triumph of Alexander the Great, Late 18th century, Russian
The Triumph of Alexander the Great,
Late 18th century, Russian
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Even though Alexander the Great has made the horseman his signature image, it was used in the Kingdom of Macedonia before and after him.

Stater with horse and rider, struck under Archelaos I, 413–399 BC, Macedonia
Stater with horse and rider, struck under Archelaos I,
413–399 BC, Macedonia
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Coin with filleted head, struck under Philip II, 359–336 BC, Macedonia
Coin with filleted head, struck under Philip II,
359–336 BC, Macedonia
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Coin with head of Apollo, struck under Alexander V, 295 BC, Macedonia
Coin with head of Apollo, struck under Alexander V,
295 BC, Macedonia
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Stater with head of Demetrios Poliorketes, cr. 290–289 BC, Macedonia
Stater with head of Demetrios Poliorketes,
cr. 290–289 BC, Macedonia
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Suggested reconstructions of the temple of Artemis Leucophryene, 3rd-2nd century BC, Magnesia on the Maeander, Turkey
Suggested reconstructions of the temple of Artemis Leucophryene,
3rd-2nd century BC, Magnesia on the Maeander, Turkey
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Pergamon vase, a marble dinos with a depiction of 15 horsemen, 2nd century BC, Bergama, Turkey
Pergamon vase, a marble dinos with a depiction of 15 horsemen,
2nd century BC, Bergama, Turkey
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The horsemen on rearing horses were frequently appearing in Hellenistic world, not only in Macedonia.

One famous example is a marble “Pergamon vase” that dates from the second century BC and was excavated in modern-day Turkey: it is decorated with a bas-relief that depicts 15 horsemen on rearing horses.

The other example is the temple of Artemis Leucophryene (white-browed Artemis) in Magnesia on the Maeander (also modern-day Turkey) designed in late 3rd – early 2nd century BC by Hermogenes of Priene. It also featured a marble relief with the riders on rearing horses, but in this case it is a sculptured frieze, and the riders are Amazons. Roman architect and hisotorian Vitruvius has called it the most beautiful temple in Asia Minor.

Detail of an Amazonomachy frieze of the temple of Artemis Leucophryene, 1st quarter of the 2nd century BC, Magnesia on the Maeander, Turkey
Detail of an Amazonomachy frieze of the temple of Artemis Leucophryene,
1st quarter of the 2nd century BC, Magnesia on the Maeander, Turkey
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Detail of an Amazonomachy frieze of the temple of Artemis Leucophryene, 1st quarter of the 2nd century BC, Magnesia on the Maeander, Turkey
Detail of an Amazonomachy frieze of the temple of Artemis Leucophryene,
1st quarter of the 2nd century BC, Magnesia on the Maeander, Turkey
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Detail of an Amazonomachy frieze of the temple of Artemis Leucophryene, 1st quarter of the 2nd century BC, Magnesia on the Maeander, Turkey
Detail of an Amazonomachy frieze of the temple of Artemis Leucophryene,
1st quarter of the 2nd century BC, Magnesia on the Maeander, Turkey
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Some very interesting from iconographical perspective coins were minted in Paeonia, the kingdom that roughly corresponds to the present-day Republic of Macedonia. Museum of Fine Arts (Boston) research suggests that the foe attacked by the horseman is Persian, however Nicholas Wright suggests that this foe is Macedonian. There are many variations of the depiction of the horseman on the coins struck under king Patraos, see this list of king Patraos coins for further examples. The iconography is very similar to a Greek seal presumably made for a Persian patron, depicting a Persian horseman spearing a Greek foe.

Tetradrachm of the King Paionia, 335–315 BC, Paeonia
Tetradrachm of the King Paionia,
335–315 BC, Paeonia
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Tetradrachm of the King Paionia, 335–315 BC, Paeonia
Tetradrachm of the King Paionia,
335–315 BC, Paeonia
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Tetradrachm of the King Teutamados, 4th century BC (?), Paeonia
Tetradrachm of the King Teutamados,
4th century BC (?), Paeonia
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Plasma scarabaeoid seal: Persian Horseman Slaying a Greek with a Spear, cr. 450-400 BC, Greek/Ionian
COMPARANDUM: Plasma scarabaeoid seal: Persian Horseman Slaying a Greek with a Spear,
cr. 450-400 BC, Greek/Ionian
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Later on, some Hellenistic coins were showing Dioscuri brothers on rearing horses. This motif appears in many times in various parts of Hellenistic world.

Stater of Sodamos, showing Dioscuri,cr. 281–272 BC, Taras (Tarentum), Calabria (Hellenistic)
Stater of Sodamos, showing Dioscuri,
cr. 281–272 BC, Taras (Tarentum), Calabria (Hellenistic)
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Gold 20-stater of Eucratides I, the largest gold coin ever minted in Antiquity (weight 169.2 grams, diameter of 58 millimeters), showing Dioscuri,cr. 171-145 BC, Bactrian (Hellenistic)
Gold 20-stater of Eucratides I, the largest gold coin ever minted in Antiquity (weight 169.2 grams, diameter of 58 millimeters), showing Dioscuri,
cr. 171-145 BC, Bactrian (Hellenistic)
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A silver didrachm of Antiochus VI Dionysus showing Dioscuri, cr. 143-142 BC, Seleucid (Hellenistic)
A silver didrachm of Antiochus VI Dionysus showing Dioscuri,
cr. 143-142 BC, Seleucid (Hellenistic)
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A silver tetradrachm of Diomedes Soter showing Dioscuri, cr. 115-90 BC, Bactrian/Indo-Greek (Hellenistic)
A silver tetradrachm of Diomedes Soter showing Dioscuri,
cr. 115-90 BC, Bactrian/Indo-Greek (Hellenistic)
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Lastly, there are two coins minted in the city of Kibyra in Greater Phrygia (modern south-west Turkey). They both have a depiction of a horseman on a rearing horse on the reverse. One is a particularly charming – it feature a large butterfly sitting on a horseman’s spear! They both were minted between 166 and 84 BC, which was a turbulent period in the history of Phrygia and Kibyra. Phrygia was ruled by a Greek king from 188 BC until 133 BC, when it was bequested to Rome. In 84-83 BC Moagetes, was the last tyrant of Kibyra, was defeated by Roman general Lucius Licinius Murena as a part of the Second Mithridatic War and the city Kibyra was attached to Phrygia. This reflected the change the world was undergoing at that time: Greek civilisation was losing its dominant positition and the building of Roman empire was gathering momentum.

Drachm with head of youth, cr. 166–84 BC, Kibyra, Phrygia (Hellenistic)
Drachm with head of youth,
cr. 166–84 BC, Kibyra, Phrygia (Hellenistic)
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Drachm with helmeted and cuirassed horseman holding a spear with a butterfly sitting on it, cr. 166–84 BC, Kibyra, Phrygia (Hellenistic)
Drachm with helmeted and cuirassed horseman holding a spear with a butterfly sitting on it,
cr. 166–84 BC, Kibyra, Phrygia (Hellenistic)
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Scythians

The Scythians were a large group of Iranian Eurasian nomads who were mentioned by the literate peoples surrounding them as inhabiting large areas in the central Eurasian steppes from about the 9th century BC until about the 1st century BC. They have left us little information about their history themselves. Ancient Greeks, their arch-enemies, notably Herodotus, were writing a lot about them, but their accounts are inevitably biased and not always plausible.

Quite a few surviving Scythians’ artifacts depict horsemen on rearing horses, all of them seem to be anonymous. Many of these artefacts are made of pure gold. Most are part of The State Hermitage Museum collection.

Comb with a Battle Scene, Late 5th-early 4th century BC
Comb with a Battle Scene,
Late 5th-early 4th century BC
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Bowl with the Depiction of a Lion-Hunt, Early 4th century BC
Bowl with the Depiction of a Lion-Hunt,
Early 4th century BC
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Greco-Scythian gold horseman appliqué, (?) cr. 4th century BC
Greco-Scythian gold horseman appliqué,
(?) cr. 4th century BC
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Greco-Scythian gold horseman appliqué, (?) cr. 4th century BC
Greco-Scythian gold horseman appliqué,
(?) cr. 4th century BC
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Greco-Scythian gold horseman appliqué, (?) cr. 4th century BC
Greco-Scythian gold horseman appliqué,
(?) cr. 4th century BC
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Greco-Scythian gold horseman appliqué, (?) cr. 4th century BC
Greco-Scythian gold horseman appliqué,
(?) cr. 4th century BC
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Greco-Scythian gold horseman appliqué, (?) cr. 4th century BC
Greco-Scythian gold horseman appliqué,
(?) cr. 4th century BC
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Thracians

The Thracians were a group of Indo-European tribes inhabiting a large area in southeastern Europe. Thracians are one of the three primary ancestral groups of modern Bulgarians. Thracians were exposed to other cultures through their wars: they were fighting against (and with) Persia, against Ancient Greece and Scythia, and later against Ancient Rome. All these conflicts have influenced Thracian culture and enabled the development of the motif of Thracian Horseman.

As suggested by Maya Vassileva, the early Thracian representation of the horsemen on the rearing horses are the Achaemenid (Persian) “borrowings” and were used to indicate the elite status of the rider.

Aleksandrovo tomb near Haskovo district Bulgaria, fragment of a mural, 4th century BC
Aleksandrovo tomb near Haskovo district Bulgaria, fragment of a mural,
4th century BC
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Aleksandrovo tomb near Haskovo district Bulgaria, fragment of a mural, 4th century BC
Aleksandrovo tomb near Haskovo district Bulgaria, fragment of a mural,
4th century BC
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Gilt silver phiale mesomphalos, late 5th century BC, made in Ancient Greece for a Thracian patron (?)
Gilt silver phiale mesomphalos,
late 5th century BC, made in Ancient Greece for a Thracian patron (?)
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The bezel of the gold seal-ring showing boar-hunt on horseback, 5th-4th century BC, Peychova tumulus
The bezel of the gold seal-ring showing boar-hunt on horseback,
5th-4th century BC, Peychova tumulus
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The Çan Sarcophagus, detail of Persian horseman spearing fallen footsoldier, beginning of the 4th century BC
The Çan Sarcophagus, detail of Persian horseman spearing fallen footsoldier,
beginning of the 4th century BC
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The Çan Sarcophagus, detail of hunting scene, beginning of the 4th century BC
The Çan Sarcophagus, detail of hunting scene,
beginning of the 4th century BC
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Silver gilt belt, 5th-4th century BC, Lovets, central Bulgaria
Silver gilt belt,
5th-4th century BC, Lovets, central Bulgaria
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Bas-relief of a Thracian horseman, 1st quarter of the 4th century BC (?)
Bas-relief of a Thracian horseman,
1st quarter of the 4th century BC (?)
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Later on, roughly from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD, there was a recurring motif of a horseman depicted in reliefs in the Balkans (Thrace, Macedonia, Moesia) known as Thracian horseman. The presentation of the reliefs is quite similar to Roman funerary stelae. Their purpose was also, in many cases, to be funerary stelae; some are votive tablets. However, the iconograhpy ot the horsemen is different from the one we see on Roman funerary stelae. The first object I have found is very simlpe, just a horseman and his horse. But soon enough, as explained in Wikipedia, three types of Thracian horseman iconography have been developped: hunter motif, serpent-and-tree motif and rider-and-goddess motif.

The hunter motif is earliest one. It represents a hunter on horseback, riding from left to right. Between the horse’s hooves is depicted either a hunting dog or a boar. In some instances, the dog is replaced by a lion. It is reminscent of earlier Thracian horsemen, and is likely to be inspired by Persian imagery.

Bas-relief of a Thracian horseman, 3rd century BC
Bas-relief of a Thracian horseman,
3rd century BC
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Thracian horseman, a funerary stele with Greek inscription, ?
Thracian horseman, a funerary stele with Greek inscription,
?
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Tombstone with Thracian rider relief, 1st - 2nd century AD
Tombstone with Thracian rider relief,
1st - 2nd century AD
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Funerary stela of Amynandros and Makedonios showing a Thracian horseman, 2nd century AD
Funerary stela of Amynandros and Makedonios showing a Thracian horseman,
2nd century AD
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Marble votive tablet of the Thracian Horseman, 3rd century AD
Marble votive tablet of the Thracian Horseman,
3rd century AD
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Votive tablet with Thracian rider relief, 3rd century AD
Votive tablet with Thracian rider relief,
3rd century AD
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The serpent-and-tree motif has appeared later on. The serpent-and-tree could represent the rod of Asclepius, although there are many other possible interprestations – see Antonios Sakellariou's dissertation thesis for more informations. The serpent-and-tree motif often incoporates the hunting motifs, i.e. a hound and/or the game animals undernearth the horse.

Large marble hero horseman relief from Thessaloniki, Greece, ?
Large marble hero horseman relief from Thessaloniki, Greece,
?
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A bas-relief showing a Thracian horseman, 2nd century AD
A bas-relief showing a Thracian horseman,
2nd century AD
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Votive tablet showing Thracian horseman, 1st quarter of the 3th century AD (?)
Votive tablet showing Thracian horseman,
1st quarter of the 3th century AD (?)
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A bas-relief showing a Thracian horseman, 3rd century AD
A bas-relief showing a Thracian horseman,
3rd century AD
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A votive tablet of the deity Sylvanus, end of 2nd century AD
A votive tablet of the deity Sylvanus,
end of 2nd century AD
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A votive tablet of a Thracian horseman, 2nd-3rd centuries AD
A votive tablet of a Thracian horseman,
2nd-3rd centuries AD
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The rider-and-goddess motif also occasionally incoporates the hunting motif. According to Antonios Sakellariou's dissertation thesis, the goddess could be Hygieia, the daughter of Asclepius. The bas-relief that depicts two women is dedicated to Asclepius, so one could specilatively assume that one of these two women is Hygieia.

Ancient Rome

The depiction of a horseman was encountered on the tombstones of the Roman cavalryman around 100 AD. Presumably initially all these tombstones were all brightly painted. The images of the horsemen represented on these tombstones vary in details, but seem quite similar. The dating is not straightforward because, unlike nowadays, the standard inscriptions on the tombstones were including the age at the time of death but not the years of birth/death.

According to Wikipedia,

The most common funerary monument for Roman soldiers was that of the stelae – a humble, unadorned piece of stone, cut into the shape of a rectangle…In some unique cases, military tombstones were adorned with sculpture. These types of headstones typically belonged to members of the auxiliary units rather than legionary units. The chief difference between the two units was citizenship. Whereas legionary soldiers were citizens of Rome, auxiliary soldiers came from provinces in the Empire. Auxiliary soldiers had the opportunity to obtain Roman citizenship only after their discharge. Tombstones served to distinguish Romans from non-Romans, and to enforce the social-hierarchy that existed within military legions… Reliefs on auxiliary tombstones often depict men on horseback, denoting the courage and heroism of the auxiliary’s cavalrymen. Though expensive, tombstones were likely within the means of the common soldier… These tombstones did not commemorate soldiers who died in combat, but rather soldiers who died during times of peace when generals and comrades were at ease to hold proper burials. Soldiers who died in battle were disrobed, cremated, and buried in mass graves near camp.

Tombstone for Roman cavalryman Rufus Sita, cr. 50 AD, discovered in Gloucester, UK
Tombstone for Roman cavalryman Rufus Sita,
cr. 50 AD, discovered in Gloucester, UK
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Tombstone of the cavalryman Vonatorix, 40-60 AD, discovered in Bonn, Germany
Tombstone of the cavalryman Vonatorix,
40-60 AD, discovered in Bonn, Germany
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Tombstone of the cavalryman Genialis, cr. 60 AD, discovered in Corinium, UK
Tombstone of the cavalryman Genialis,
cr. 60 AD, discovered in Corinium, UK
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Roman tombstone of the mounted archer Maris, 31–70 AD, discovered in Mainz, Germany
Roman tombstone of the mounted archer Maris,
31–70 AD, discovered in Mainz, Germany
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Roman tombstone of a standard-bearer Flavinus triumphing over an abject Briton,cr. 77-100 AD, discovered in Corbridge, UK
Roman tombstone of a standard-bearer Flavinus triumphing over an abject Briton,
cr. 77-100 AD, discovered in Corbridge, UK
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Roman cavalryman tombstone, 1st century AD, discovered in Cologne, Germany
Roman cavalryman tombstone,
1st century AD, discovered in Cologne, Germany
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Tombstone for Roman cavalryman Titus Flavius Bassus, 1st century AD, discovered in Cologne, Germany
Tombstone for Roman cavalryman Titus Flavius Bassus, 1st century AD, discovered in Cologne, Germany
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Tombstone for Roman cavalryman Comnisca, 1st century AD, discovered in Strasbourg, France
Tombstone for Roman cavalryman Comnisca, 1st century AD, discovered in Strasbourg, France
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Roman gravestone showing a cavalryman and naked barbarian lying beneath the horse's hooves, ?, discovered in Chester, UK
Roman gravestone showing a cavalryman and naked barbarian lying beneath the horse's hooves, ?, discovered in Chester, UK
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Roman gravestone showing a soldier Insus holding the severed head of a barbarian,cr. 100 AD, discovered in Lancashire, UK
Roman gravestone showing a soldier Insus holding the severed head of a barbarian,
cr. 100 AD, discovered in Lancashire, UK
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Roman gravestone showing a soldier Insus holding the severed head of a barbarian, coloured reconstruction (artist's impression),cr. 100 AD, discovered in Lancashire, UK
Roman gravestone showing a soldier Insus holding the severed head of a barbarian, coloured reconstruction (artist's impression),
cr. 100 AD, discovered in Lancashire, UK
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Detail of a legionary tablet called Bridgeness slab showing a Roman mounted auxiliary trampling conquered Picts, cr. 142 AD, Roman
Detail of a legionary tablet called Bridgeness slab showing a Roman mounted auxiliary trampling conquered Picts,
cr. 142 AD, Roman
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Tropeum Traiani, cr. 109 AD, reconstructed in 1977, Roman/Romanian
Tropeum Traiani,
cr. 109 AD, reconstructed in 1977, Roman/Romanian
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Tropeum Traiani Metope I showing a cavalryman carrying a shafted weapon, cr. 109 AD, Roman
Tropeum Traiani Metope I showing a cavalryman carrying a shafted weapon,
cr. 109 AD, Roman
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Later on, similar depictions of the horsemen have started to appear on the waymarks. We can see the horseman on a rearing horse on one of the metopes decorating Tropaeum Traiani, monument built on the site of modern Adamclisi, Romania, in 109 to commemorate Roman Emperor Trajan‘s victory over the Dacians, in the winter of 101-102, in the Battle of Adamclisi. The Bridgeness Slab, a Roman distance slab, marking a portion of the Antonine Wall (Scotland), created around 142 AD, also features a horseman on a rearing horse.

The other, much more famous, waymark that features horsemen on rearing horses is Trajan's Column in Rome, Italy. It was completed in 113 AD to commemorate Roman emperor Trajan‘s victory in the Dacian Wars. It is located in Trajan's Forum, built near the Quirinal Hill. The freestanding column is most famous for its spiral bas relief, which artistically describes the epic wars between the Romans and Dacians (101–102 and 105–106). Its fame, influence on the architecture of the posterity and the number of the horseman on the rearing horses depicted on it makes it comparable with Parthenon in Athens.

The first battle (Scene XXIV); Trajan's Column, 113 AD, Rome
The first battle (Scene XXIV); Trajan's Column,
113 AD, Rome
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Forced march of light troops (Scene XXXVI); Cavalry battle against Sarmatians (Scene XXXVII); Trajan's Column, 113 AD, Rome
Forced march of light troops (Scene XXXVI); Cavalry battle against Sarmatians (Scene XXXVII); Trajan's Column,
113 AD, Rome
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Advance into the mountains (Scene LXIII); Light cavalry flying columns (Scene LXIV); Trajan's Column, 113 AD, Rome
Advance into the mountains (Scene LXIII); Light cavalry flying columns (Scene LXIV); Trajan's Column,
113 AD, Rome
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Light cavalry flying columns (Scene LXIV); Trajan's Column, 113 AD, Rome
Light cavalry flying columns (Scene LXIV); Trajan's Column,
113 AD, Rome
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Forced march of Trajan on horseback (Scene LXXXIX); Trajan is greeted by some barbarians (Scene XC); Trajan's Column, 113 AD, Rome
Forced march of Trajan on horseback (Scene LXXXIX); Trajan is greeted by some barbarians (Scene XC); Trajan's Column,
113 AD, Rome
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Roman cavalry in the mountains (Scene CXLII); Fight between pursuers and pursued (Scene CXLIII); Trajan's Column, 113 AD, Rome
Roman cavalry in the mountains (Scene CXLII); Fight between pursuers and pursued (Scene CXLIII); Trajan's Column,
113 AD, Rome
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The next group of objects are the sarcophagi. According to Wikipedia,

In the burial practices of ancient Rome and Roman funerary art, marble and limestone sarcophagi elaborately carved in relief were characteristic of elite inhumation burials from the 2nd to the 4th centuries AD. At least 10,000 Roman sarcophagi have survived, with fragments possibly representing as many as 20,000. Although mythological scenes have been mostly widely studied, sarcophagus relief has been called the “richest single source of Roman iconography”, and may also depict the deceased’s occupation or life course, military scenes, and other subject matter.

Obviously, quite a few Roman sarcophagi featured horsemen on rearing horses. We often encounter Amazonomachy, but there are also hunting scenes and even the depiction of victorious Roman cavalry.

Sarcophagus with Amazonomachy scene, cr. 160–170, Rome
Sarcophagus with Amazonomachy scene,
cr. 160–170, Rome
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Portonaccio sarcophagus showing a battle scene between Roman soldiers and Germans, cr. 180–200, Rome
Portonaccio sarcophagus showing a battle scene between Roman soldiers and Germans,
cr. 180–200, Rome
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Sarcophagus with Amazonomachy scene, 2nd century, Thessaloniki
Sarcophagus with Amazonomachy scene,
2nd century, Thessaloniki
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Sarcophagus with two lion hunting scenes, cr. 235, Rome
Sarcophagus with two lion hunting scenes,
cr. 235, Rome
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Roman sarcophagus with an Amazonomachy scene, 2nd quarter of the 3th century, Thessaloniki
Roman sarcophagus with an Amazonomachy scene,
2nd quarter of the 3th century, Thessaloniki
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Ludovisi Battle sarcophagus showing a battle scene between Roman soldiers and Goths, cr. 250–260, Rome
Ludovisi Battle sarcophagus showing a battle scene between Roman soldiers and Goths,
cr. 250–260, Rome
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Sarcophagus with a rider falling from his rearing horse, cr. 240-260, Athens
Sarcophagus with a rider falling from his rearing horse,
cr. 240-260, Athens
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Fragment of a sarcophagus of the type called 'Sydamara sarcophagi', 3rd century, Asia Minor
Fragment of a sarcophagus of the type called 'Sydamara sarcophagi',
3rd century, Asia Minor
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Sydamara sarcophagus, 2nd half of the 3rd century, Konya, modern Turkey
Sydamara sarcophagus,
2nd half of the 3rd century, Konya, modern Turkey
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Sarcophagus of the type called 'Sydamara sarcophagi', 2nd half of the 3rd century, ancient Middle East
Sarcophagus of the type called 'Sydamara sarcophagi',
2nd half of the 3rd century, ancient Middle East
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A piece from the front of a lenos (tub-shaped sarcophagus) with a battle between Greeks and Amazons, cr. 290-310, Rome
A piece from the front of a lenos (tub-shaped sarcophagus) with a battle between Greeks and Amazons,
cr. 290-310, Rome
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Sarcophagus with a hunting scene, 2nd quarter of the 4th century, Arles, France
Sarcophagus with a hunting scene,
2nd quarter of the 4th century, Arles, France
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Another group of objects are the coins.

Sestertius showing emperor Trajan, 105 AD, Rome
Sestertius showing emperor Trajan,
105 AD, Rome
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A yet another group of objects are the mosaics. Those that are preserved were found in Roman provinces (except one found in 2015 in Tuscany) and mostly feature hunting scenes.

Mosaic with a hunting scene,3rd century, House of the Laberii, Uthina, Tunisia
Mosaic with a hunting scene,
3rd century, House of the Laberii, Uthina, Tunisia
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Mosaics showing an Amazonomachy scene, 3rd-4th century, Harbiye, Turkey
Mosaics showing an Amazonomachy scene,
3rd-4th century, Harbiye, Turkey
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Mosaics showing a hunting scene, 300-25, Villa Daphne, Harbiye, Turkey
Mosaics showing a hunting scene,
300-25, Villa Daphne, Harbiye, Turkey
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Mosaics showing a hunting scene, 300-25, Villa Daphne, Harbiye, Turkey
Mosaics showing a hunting scene,
300-25, Villa Daphne, Harbiye, Turkey
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Small hunt mosaic, early 4th century AD, Villa del Casale, Piazza Armerina, Sicily
Small hunt mosaic,
early 4th century AD, Villa del Casale, Piazza Armerina, Sicily
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Mosaic with a hunting scene, early 4th century AD, Villa del Casale, Piazza Armerina, Sicily
Mosaic with a hunting scene,
early 4th century AD, Villa del Casale, Piazza Armerina, Sicily
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Mosaic with a hunting scene, early 4th century AD, Villa del Casale, Piazza Armerina, Sicily
Mosaic with a hunting scene,
early 4th century AD, Villa del Casale, Piazza Armerina, Sicily
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Mosaic with a panther hunting scene,4th century, Villa de las Tiendas, Medina, Spain
Mosaic with a panther hunting scene,
4th century, Villa de las Tiendas, Medina, Spain
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Mosaic with a hunting scene,4th century, Villa of the Nile, Lepcis Magna, Libya
Mosaic with a hunting scene,
4th century, Villa of the Nile, Lepcis Magna, Libya
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Mosaic with a hunting scene,4th century, Villa de La Olmeda, Pedrosa de la Vega, Spain
Mosaic with a hunting scene,
4th century, Villa de La Olmeda, Pedrosa de la Vega, Spain
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Mosaic with a scene of hunting Amazons, 4th or 5th century, Nile House, Tzippori (or Sepphoris, or Zippori) National Park, Palestine (modern Israel)
Mosaic with a scene of hunting Amazons,
4th or 5th century, Nile House, Tzippori (or Sepphoris, or Zippori) National Park, Palestine (modern Israel)
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Mosaic with a boar hunting scene,5th century, Villa de Capraia e Limite, Tuscany, Italy
Mosaic with a boar hunting scene,
5th century, Villa de Capraia e Limite, Tuscany, Italy
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Mosaic with a hunting (?) of a Vandal,Late 5th – early 6th century, Bord-Djedid, Carthage, Tunisia
Mosaic with a hunting (?) of a Vandal,
Late 5th – early 6th century, Bord-Djedid, Carthage, Tunisia
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The iconography of the horseman on a rearing horse will be adopted by many rulers, from antiquity to modernity. One of them was infamous Roman emperor Commodus (161 – 192). Upon his death, the Senate declared him a public enemy (a de facto damnatio memoriae), so very few objects depicting Commodus have survived. Some are below.

Intaglio 'Emperor Commodus hunting',182-190, Rome
Intaglio 'Emperor Commodus hunting',
182-190, Rome
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Equestrian statue of Commodus, 2nd century AD, Vatican museums
Equestrian statue of Commodus,
2nd century AD, Vatican museums
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Bronze fitting from horse's breast-piece in a form of Commodus (?) on horseback, ?, Rome
Bronze fitting from horse's breast-piece in a form of Commodus (?) on horseback,
?, Rome
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Commodus on horseback in a venatio, spearing panther, 185, Rome
Commodus on horseback in a venatio, spearing panther,
185, Rome
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Parthian Empire (now Iran)

The Parthian empire, that existed from 247BC to 224AD, was a major Iranian political and cultural power in ancient Iran and Iraq. The Parthian rulers were claiming to be the heirs to the Achaemenid Empire, and, just as in Achaemenid Empire, the horsemanship was one of the most valued skills. Parthian shot, meaning a military tactic where mounted archers, while retreating at a full gallop, would turn their bodies back to shoot arrows at the pursuing enemy, was widely used but not many Parthian objects that depict it survive.

Egyptian woven pattern, copy of an imported Sassanid silk, which itself was based on a fresco of king Khosrau I fighting against the Ethiopian forces in Yemen, ?
Egyptian woven pattern, copy of an imported Sassanid silk, which itself was based on a fresco of king Khosrau I fighting against the Ethiopian forces in Yemen, ?
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Ceramic relief plaque of a mounted Parthian archer, 1stC-3rdC
Ceramic relief plaque of a mounted Parthian archer,
1stC-3rdC
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It is useful to observe that, while other nomadic people, notably Scythians, were using the same maneuver, it was known by Parthians before the contacts with other people who were employing this tactic, as explained in this article.

This image has become a cliché for Persian horseman, and was used, among others, by Louis XIV‘s favorite painter Charles Le Brun. However, his use of the Parthian shot in the depiction of the Battle of Arbela is an anachronism – this battle took place in 331BC, some 84 years before the Parthian empire was extablished.

Sasanian Empire (now Iran)

The Sasanian Empire was the last imperial state in Persia (Iran) before the rise of Islam, from 224 to 651AD, successor of the Parthian empire. Its art objects include many silver plates decorated with the images of the hunt of Sasanian kings; of course, many of them are depicted on rearing horses. The description of the earliest of these plates, done by The Smithsonian’s Museum of Asian Art, offers a great insight into the story of these plates:

“I, Shapur, king of kings, partner with the Stars, brother of the Sun and Moon, to my brother Constantius Caesar offer most ample greeting.…”

Like Shapur’s flowery letter to the Roman emperor Constantine, this masterpiece of silverwork presents Shapur II as a ruler of the universe, the king of kings.

It was produced during the fourth century CE for Shapur II, the Sasanian king who is identified by his distinctive crown. He was one of the most powerful rulers of the Sasanian dynasty, which controlled Iran and much of the Ancient Near East from 224 to 651 CE. During Shapur’s reign, scenes depicting the king hunting gazelle, boars, bulls, and ibex were important metaphors for royal power. The plate, like several other similar examples, was presented as a gift to dignitaries or was displayed prominently in the Sasanian palace to assert Shapur’s sovereignty.”

Bowl with the depiction of a king hunting ibices, 4th-5th century
Bowl with the depiction of a king hunting ibices,
4th-5th century
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Plate with king hunting rams, cr. mid-5th – mid-6th century
Plate with king hunting rams,
cr. mid-5th – mid-6th century
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Dish with Scene of the Royal Hunt,first half of the 7th century
Dish with Scene of the Royal Hunt,
first half of the 7th century
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Silver plate with gold coating, ? (Sasanian), Azerbaijan Museum, Tabriz, Iran
Silver plate with gold coating,
? (Sasanian), Azerbaijan Museum, Tabriz, Iran
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There are two more Sasanian objects with a depiction of a horseman. The horses stand on 3 feet, so they are off-topic for this presentation. However, I wanted to mention them because there are striking similarities with the Roman/Byzanitine objects that we will encounter later. Even though, as the inscriptions in indicate, these are definitely Persian objects, we see halo, which is more of a Christian symbol, a lance is topped with a cross and the slayed animals are hydras, a monster from Greco-Roman mythology. It is possible that they belonged to Christians who lived in Sassanian Persia; more information about Christians in pre-Islamic Persia can be found in Iranica Online.

Stamp-seal engraved with a nimbate ride who attacks hydra, 5th century or later, Sasanian
Stamp-seal engraved with a nimbate ride who attacks hydra,
5th century or later, Sasanian
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Stamp-seal engraved with a nimbate ride who attacks hydra, possibly with a lance, 5th century or later, Sasanian
Stamp-seal engraved with a nimbate ride who attacks hydra, possibly with a lance,
5th century or later, Sasanian
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Magical pendant with Holy Rider on horseback, trampling over a dragon lying on the ground, 5th century, Byzantian
COMPARANDUM: Magical pendant with Holy Rider on horseback, trampling over a dragon lying on the ground,
5th century, Byzantian
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Introducing Saint George

Before proceeding any further, let me introduce Saint George, a Christian Saint, a Syrian born in cr. 280 AD who served in the army of a Roman empiror and was tortured and executed for his refusal to recant his Christian faith in 303 AD. The story of his life was not well documented and thus should be seen as a myth rather than the actual facts. The most famous episode of the life of this Saint is the story of his defeat of a dragon and a rescue of a princess told in the Golden Legend.

Saint George is often represented on a rearing horse. Moreover, in all likelihood, he has more representations on a rearing horse than any other person, real or mythical. He has other canonical representations, too. The subject of representation in art is well researched, a few on-line sources (among others) are “The Legend of St. George Saving a Youth from Captivity and its Depiction in Art” by Piotr Grotowski, “In Search Of Saint George” by H.F.Rance and “The Miracle of St.George and the Dragon\Black George” by Yury Bobrov.

Byzantine Empire

A bowl with a scene of a triumph of Constantius II, mid-4th century AD
A bowl with a scene of a triumph of Constantius II,
mid-4th century AD
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Byzantine Empire was formed as the result of division of “too big to manage” Roman Empire into two parts, the Eastern (Byzantine Empire) and the Western Roman Empire. Perhaps the best choice for inception date of the Byzantine Empire is 330AD, when Constantinople, previously known as Byzantium, became its capital.

The new name of the city was honouring Constantine the Great, the emperor who has masterminded this transformation. Constantine was the first Roman emperor to claim conversion to Christianity. During his reign, the tolerance for Christianity was decreed in the empire.

We can see that the image of Constantius II, the son of Constantine the Great, on the bowl that was a diplomatic gift from the Byzantine Emperor to a representative of the government of Bosporan Kingdom. There are many cultural layers on this depiction. Firstly, the composition was to remind us of Roman empire: the Emperor on horseback is piercing the enemy with a spear, an image typical of Roman coins. Secondly, we can see the pagan goddess Nike crowning the winner. Thirdly, the halo around the Emperor’s head is probably inndicating the Emperor is Christian, although halo was sometimes used within pagan iconography, too.

Further evidence of the cultural complexity of Byzantine Empire comes to light when we examine other Byzantine depictions of the horsemen on the rearing horses. Some will be alluding to the glories and splendours of the united Roman empire, e.g. gladiators and its cultural connections to Ancient Greece (Alexander the Great and pagan gods).

Amphora,4th century, created in Moldavia under Greek, Roman and Byzantine influences
Amphora,
4th century, created in Moldavia under Greek, Roman and Byzantine influences
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Triumphant emperor (Barberini ivory), cr.500-550
Triumphant emperor (Barberini ivory),
cr.500-550
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Ivory chest with mythological and combat scenes, 10th-11th century
Ivory chest with mythological and combat scenes,
10th-11th century
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Bowl Showing the Ascension of Alexander the Great,12th century
Bowl Showing the Ascension of Alexander the Great,
12th century
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Alexander the Great and Ptolemy I Soter attacking, 14th century, Constantine Manasses Chronicle
Alexander the Great and Ptolemy I Soter attacking,
14th century, Constantine Manasses Chronicle
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Other depictions will be more representative of the Byzantine Empire with its complex multiface pattern, while still referencing the Ancient Roman art. In fact, as shown in the research done by Sasson Ancient Art, the representation of the Holy Rider seems to be ideal to get the drip of the cultural patterns of the Byzantine Empire. We have already seen the representation of the Emperor Constantius II with a halo around his head, which clearly indicates divinity, while the composition reminds us of his royal status through the similarity with the coins. Later in Eastern Mediterranean region, there will appear the amulets King Solomon on a rearing horse, spearing the demon Lilith, a killer of the little children: this story is part of Jewish tradition, the rider is both royal and divine. In Byzantine iconography of the 5th century, the horseman became St. Sisinnius or Sisoe, destroying the she-demon Gello, also a killer of the little children. (Another demon responsible for miscarriages is Abyzou of the Near East and Europe; both king Solomon and St. Sisinnius can act as her adversaries). Later on, the rider was identified as Saint Demetrius, Saint George, Saint Mercurius and Saint Theodore of Amasea, the four saints who are considered both great martyrs and military saints.

Hematite magic gem of Solomon,3rd century, late Roman
Hematite magic gem of Solomon,
3rd century, late Roman
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Magical gem with a rider on a rearing horse (Solomon) stabbing a woman lying on the earth (Lilith), 4th century
Magical gem with a rider on a rearing horse (Solomon) stabbing a woman lying on the earth (Lilith),
4th century
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Magical gem with a rider on a rearing horse (Solomon) stabbing a woman lying on the earth (Lilith), 4th century
Magical gem with a rider on a rearing horse (Solomon) stabbing a woman lying on the earth (Lilith),
4th century
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Magical pendant: Holy rider (Saint Sisinnius) trampling and spearing a woman lying on the ground, ?
Magical pendant: Holy rider (Saint Sisinnius) trampling and spearing a woman lying on the ground,
?
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Magical pendant with Holy Rider on horseback, trampling over a dragon lying on the ground, 5th century, Byzantian
Magical pendant with Holy Rider on horseback, trampling over a dragon lying on the ground,
5th century, Byzantian
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Magical pendant: Holy Rider on horseback, trampling over a figure lying on the ground, 5th-6th century
Magical pendant: Holy Rider on horseback, trampling over a figure lying on the ground,
5th-6th century
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Amulet with the Evil Eye and the Holy Rider, 5th-6th century
Amulet with the Evil Eye and the Holy Rider,
5th-6th century
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Amuletic pendant with Solomon, the Holy Rider, spears Lillith, 5th-6th century
Amuletic pendant with Solomon, the Holy Rider, spears Lillith,
5th-6th century
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Bronze medallion with Saint George, 9th–12th century
Bronze medallion with Saint George,
9th–12th century
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St. George and the Dragon (small image used for personal prayer), 12th century
St. George and the Dragon (small image used for personal prayer),
12th century
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St George on Horseback, Slaying the Dragon, 1425-50, chanter Angelos Akotandos
St George on Horseback, Slaying the Dragon,
1425-50, chanter Angelos Akotandos
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Egypt, 4th century – present: Horus dressed like a Roman soldier, tapestries and Saint Mercurius

Each culture seems to be able to make the motif of the rearing horseman their own, adapting it to fit the local tradition. Perhaps the finest example of this ability to adapt is the part of window decoration that shows a horseman, who is none other than the god Horus dressed like a Roman soldier, is stabbing his spear into a crocodile, the animal that symbolized the god Setekh. According to Louvre researchers, Egyptian deities were never portrayed on horseback. This representation, which dates from the 4th century AD, reflects the influence of Greco-Roman models and of the Christian symbolism of Good conquering Evil. Likewise, the textile designs use the Greco-Roman mythology, contemporary rider on a rearing horse motifs and the depiction of the hunt typical for Persian and Roman art, but their representation reflects Egyptian traditions.

Horus the Horseman (part of window decoration), 4th century, Coptic
Horus the Horseman
(part of window decoration),
4th century, Coptic
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Hanging known as Sabine's shawl depicting Bellerophon trampling Chimera, 4th-5th century, Coptic
Hanging known as Sabine's shawl depicting Bellerophon trampling Chimera,
4th-5th century, Coptic
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Fabric with the Depiction of an Amazon, 5th century
Fabric with the Depiction of an Amazon,
5th century
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Textile Band with Two Figures on Horseback, 5th century, Coptic
Textile Band with Two Figures on Horseback,
5th century, Coptic
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Textile fragment depicting a horseman, 5th-6th century, Coptic
Textile fragment depicting a horseman,
5th-6th century, Coptic
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Textile fragment depicting a horseman, 5th-6th century, Coptic
Textile fragment depicting a horseman,
5th-6th century, Coptic
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Textile roundel with a holy rider killing a snake with a spear, 4th-7th century, Coptic
Textile roundel with a holy rider killing a snake with a spear,
4th-7th century, Coptic
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Tapestry roundel with horseman, 5th-7th century, Coptic
Tapestry roundel with horseman,
5th-7th century, Coptic
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Textile fragment with a hunting scene, 8th century, Egypt or Syria
Textile fragment with a hunting scene,
8th century, Egypt or Syria
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Later on, there appeared a very idiosyncratic representation of Saint Mercurius, a saint that seemed to be much more popular with Egyptian Copts than with other Christian denominations. The Coptic icons of Saint Mercurius I have found are of uneven artistic quality and only one is dated, but the imagery is so striking that they seem to be worth appearing in this presentation: the ability to hold two swords while piercing emperor Julian the Apostate who was prosecuting Christians with his spear is truly superhuman.

Saint George in Georgia, 9th-15th century

According to In Search Of Saint George, Georgia has converted to Christianity in early 4th century, at about the same time as the rest of the Roman Empire. It is unclear when Saint George has been designated as its national Patron Saint, but his cult was widespread by the 10th century.

While Georgia was remaining Christian religiously, and thus influenced by the Byzantine empire, its neighbour, it was also under cultural influences of its many invadours: Mongols, Persians and Turks.

The iconography of Saint George that was frequently used in Georgia, showing an equestrian St. George with the horse standing or rearing over the prostrate figure of Diocletian, rather than the figure of the Dragon, was a provintial Byzantine theme, which was foreign to metropolitan Byzantine art. One of representations of Diocletian, where his armour is made of scales, could suggest how the figure of Diocletian has transformed into a Dragon.

The choice of the iconography that features a horseman on a rearing horse, as well as the the choice of metalworks repoussé as the most frequently used technique, suggests the influence of Sassanian empire where both the subject and the technique were much used and loved.

Saint George slaying Diocletian and Saint Theodore slaying a serpent, bas-relief from a 9th-10th century Georgian monastery
Saint George slaying Diocletian and Saint Theodore slaying a serpent,
bas-relief from a 9th-10th century Georgian monastery
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Saint George slaying Diocletian and Saint Theodore slaying a serpent, silver embossing, 10th century
Saint George slaying Diocletian and Saint Theodore slaying a serpent, silver embossing,
10th century
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St. George spearing a fallen warrior, possibly the emperor Diocletian, his prosecutor, 11th century
St. George spearing a fallen warrior, possibly the emperor Diocletian, his prosecutor,
11th century
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Icon of St. George from Likhauri (Georgia),12th century
Icon of St. George from Likhauri (Georgia),
12th century
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Silver gilt icon of St George with the prostrate figure of Diocletian, ?
Silver gilt icon of St George with the prostrate figure of Diocletian,
?
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Four scenes from the life of St George from the Chkhari Cross, 15th century
Four scenes from the life of St George from the Chkhari Cross,
15th century
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St. George slaying the Dragon, cloisonné enamel on gold, 15th century
St. George slaying the Dragon, cloisonné enamel on gold,
15th century
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Saint George in Ethiopian Empire from 15th century to present

Like Georgia, Ethiopian Empire was bordering Byzantine Empire, has adopted Christianity in the beginning of the first millenium and was under Islamic influence. Like Georgia, Ethiopian Empire has chosen St. George to be its patron saint. The existing documents Ethiopians have started venerating Saint George later than Georgians, perhaps in the 15th century. However, according to In Search Of Saint George, it is possible that earlier evidence of the veneration of Saint George in Ehiopian Empire has been destroyed during the invasions of 1529-43 led by Somali Muslim Ahmad ibn Ibrahim al-Ghazi.

Ethiopian artists have developed a very strict and idiosyncratic canon for the representation of Saint George. It certainly reflects the taste for bright colours and flatness of the image common in African art. The person in the tree directly in front of Saint George and above the horse’s head is the princess that the saint is about to save. In Ethiopian tradition, the princess’s name is Biruwit, and she is said to personify Ethiopia.

Diptych Icon with Saint George, and Mary and the Infant Christ, early 15th century
Diptych Icon with Saint George, and Mary and the Infant Christ,
early 15th century
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Saint George slaying a dragon painted on carved wood, 17th century
Saint George slaying a dragon painted on carved wood,
17th century
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Saint George slaying a dragon (a fresco), 17th century
Saint George slaying a dragon (a fresco),
17th century
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Ensemble of 44 leaves featuring Ethiopian saints and scenes from the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament including 9 saints on rearing horses, painting on parchment,late 17th century
Ensemble of 44 leaves featuring Ethiopian saints and scenes from the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament including 9 saints on rearing horses, painting on parchment,
late 17th century
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Saint George from the ensemble of 44 leaves featuring Ethiopian saints and scenes from the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament, painting on parchment,late 17th century
Saint George from the ensemble of 44 leaves featuring Ethiopian saints and scenes from the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament, painting on parchment,
late 17th century
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Saint George from the ensemble of 44 leaves featuring Ethiopian saints and scenes from the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament, painting on parchment,late 17th century
Saint George from the ensemble of 44 leaves featuring Ethiopian saints and scenes from the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament, painting on parchment,
late 17th century
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St. George slaying the dragon and Mary with the Christ child flanked by the archangels Michael and Gabriel, late 17th century
St. George slaying the dragon and Mary with the Christ child flanked by the archangels Michael and Gabriel,
late 17th century
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Double Diptych Icon Pendant depicting the Vigin Mary, the infant Christ, Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel and Saint George slaying a dragon, early 18th century
Double Diptych Icon Pendant depicting the Vigin Mary, the infant Christ, Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel and Saint George slaying a dragon,
early 18th century
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Painting on parchment depicting the Vigin Mary, the infant Christ, Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel and Saint George slaying a dragon, 19th century
Painting on parchment depicting the Vigin Mary, the infant Christ, Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel and Saint George slaying a dragon,
19th century
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St. George Slaying the Dragon, church wall painting,  ?
St. George Slaying the Dragon, church wall painting,
?
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St. George Slaying the Dragon, church wall painting,  ?
St. George Slaying the Dragon, church wall painting,
?
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St. George Slaying the Dragon, church wall painting,  ?
St. George Slaying the Dragon, church wall painting,
?
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Ethiopian coptic metal altar with the depiction of St. George,2010s, $75 off eBay
Ethiopian coptic metal altar with the depiction of St. George,
2010s, $75 off eBay
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11th – 15th century, Europe: Saint George and Graphic Art

Traditionally, Saint George is depicted on a rearing horse. His images are most probably the first art objects that show a horseman on a rearing horse in the post-antique world. It is interesting to see how his image changes from medieval Orthodox icons to Renaissance paintings. Just as a prince charming, he appears on a white horse, slays the dragon and saves the princess.

It seems that St.George’s image has arrived to Europe via two different routes. It has, in all likelihood, arrived to Russia via religios/cultural exchanges with Byzantine empire (and, probably, Georgia), because Russia have officially adopted the religion of Byzantine empire, Orthodox Christianity. The earliest objects in this series are two bas-reliefs with the depictions of warrior saints, one of the earliest surviving Russian sculptures. The choice of the saints and the iconography clearly draws inspiration from Byzantine art. The other objects, icons, look properly Russian, but actually there were similar icons in Byzantine empire, too.

Two Horseman (George and Theodore), cr. 1062, from St.Michael's monastery in Kiev, Russia
Two Horseman (George and Theodore),
cr. 1062, from St.Michael's monastery in Kiev, Russia
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Two Horseman (Nestor and Demetrius), cr. 1062, from St.Michael's monastery in Kiev, Russia
Two Horseman (Nestor and Demetrius),
cr. 1062, from St.Michael's monastery in Kiev, Russia
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Miracle of St George and the Dragon, with Scenes from his Life. 1300-50, Novgorod, Russia
Miracle of St George and the Dragon, with Scenes from his Life.
1300-50, Novgorod, Russia
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The Miracle of Saint George and the Dragon, mid 14th century, Novgorod, Russia
The Miracle of Saint George and the Dragon,
mid 14th century, Novgorod, Russia
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Saint George and the Dragon, second half of 15th century, Moscow/Rostov, Russia
Saint George and the Dragon,
second half of 15th century, Moscow/Rostov, Russia
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Battle between Novgorod and Suzdal in 1170 with the depiction of Saint George and other warrior saints in the bottom tier, second half of 15th century, Novgorod, Russia
Battle between Novgorod and Suzdal in 1170 with the depiction of Saint George and other warrior saints in the bottom tier,
second half of 15th century, Novgorod, Russia
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The Western Europe has been introduced to the cult of Saint George thanks to Norman crusaiders, as explained in the blog In Search Of Saint George.

One of the first depictions of Saint George in Western Europe, that also happened to be dated and produced by an artist we know of, Barisano da Trani. He is best known for his bronze relief door panels on the doors of Trani Cathedral (1185), Monreale Cathedral in Monreale (1190), and for the churches in Astrano and in Ravello (1179) on the Amalfi Coast. They all feature almost identical depictions of Saint George on a rearing horse.

St. George killing the dragon, detail of the main doors, 1179, Cathedral of San Pantaleone, Ravello
St. George killing the dragon, detail of the main doors,
1179, Cathedral of San Pantaleone, Ravello
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St. George killing the dragon, detail of the main doors, 1185, Trani Cathedral, Puglia
St. George killing the dragon, detail of the main doors,
1185, Trani Cathedral, Puglia
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St. George killing the dragon, detail of the bronze North door, cr. 1190, Monreale Cathedral, Sicily
St. George killing the dragon, detail of the bronze North door,
cr. 1190, Monreale Cathedral, Sicily
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More depictions of Saint George have followed.

Circular bronze-gilt seal-matrix showing St George and the dragon, late 13th century, Italy
Circular bronze-gilt seal-matrix showing St George and the dragon,
late 13th century, Italy
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Bowl with a Horseman Spearing a Serpent, late 1300s or early 1400s, Málaga, Spain
Bowl with a Horseman Spearing a Serpent,
late 1300s or early 1400s, Málaga, Spain
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Retable of St George (detail), circa 1400, Andrés Marzal De Sax
Retable of St George (detail),
circa 1400, Andrés Marzal De Sax
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Saint George and the Dragon, circa 1432-5, Rogier van der Weyden
Saint George and the Dragon,
circa 1432-5, Rogier van der Weyden
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Saint George Killing the Dragon, 1434-5, Bernat Martorell
Saint George Killing the Dragon,
1434-5, Bernat Martorell
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Saint George and the Dragon, Paolo Uccello, 1470
Saint George and the Dragon,
Paolo Uccello, 1470
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Pesaro Altarpiece (predella), 1471-4, Giovanni Bellini
Pesaro Altarpiece (predella),
1471-4, Giovanni Bellini
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Saint George and the Dragon,c. 1490-1495, Tilman Riemenschneider
Saint George and the Dragon,
c. 1490-1495, Tilman Riemenschneider
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Miniature of George fighting the dragon, with a full border with George passing the king's daughter, cr. 1500, a Book of Hours, Netherlands
Miniature of George fighting the dragon, with a full border with George passing the king's daughter,
cr. 1500, a Book of Hours, Netherlands
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Saint George and the Dragon,circa 1506, Raphael
Saint George and the Dragon,
circa 1506, Raphael
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Rearing horsemen in devotional artworks that are not Saint George were rare. The only example I could find is a nameless horseman dragging the body of Isidore of Chios on the mosaic of Saint Isidore’s Chapel in St Mark's Basilica, Venice. Unfortunately, the full scale photograph of the mosaic is not available, so I have to use an old black and white one, and a fragments of a full colour one, to give the idea what the original looks like.

The Martyrdom of St. Isidore, cr. 1355, Mosaic, St Mark's Basilica, Venice
The Martyrdom of St. Isidore,
cr. 1355, Mosaic, St Mark's Basilica, Venice
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The Martyrdom of St. Isidore (fragment, to illustrate the colours), cr. 1355, Mosaic, St Mark's Basilica, Venice
The Martyrdom of St. Isidore (fragment, to illustrate the colours),
cr. 1355, Mosaic, St Mark's Basilica, Venice
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As the secular art develops, the images of horsemen (and, interestingly, the horsewomen) start to emerge in graphic art forms. These horses are not yet rearing, it looks more like a gallop, but they are standing on their hind legs nevertheless.

Miniature of an armed knight of Prato on horseback (a manuscript illustration), c. 1335-40, Pacino di Buonaguida (attribution), Italy
Miniature of an armed knight of Prato on horseback (a manuscript illustration),
c. 1335-40, Pacino di Buonaguida (attribution), Italy
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How Alexander the Great Mounted Bucephalus (a manuscript illustration), mid 1400s, Burgundy
How Alexander the Great Mounted Bucephalus (a manuscript illustration),
mid 1400s, Burgundy
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Young prince Maximilian hunting for birds as a horsed archer,1470, Albrecht Dürer and his pupils
Young prince Maximilian hunting for birds as a horsed archer,
1470, Albrecht Dürer and his pupils
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Maria of Burgundy (a manuscript illustration), end of 15th century, Bruges
Maria of Burgundy (a manuscript illustration),
end of 15th century, Bruges
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Young couple on a horseback, 1496, Albrecht Dürer
Young couple on a horseback,
1496, Albrecht Dürer
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A German stamp based on a Dürer's engraving, 1990, Germany
A German stamp based on a Dürer's engraving,
1990, Germany
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Italy, 15th century: Beyond Saint George

Secular paintings showing horseman on rearing horses until Leonardo were very rare. It was Leonardo da Vinci who has put the subject to a reaing horse in a prominent position. Indeed, according to Fitzwilliam museum research, Leonardo seems to have had a personal fascination with the horse and he is known to have written a treatise on the subject, now sadly lost.

The horsemen on the rearing horses we see on the right of a palm tree that is in the centre of the composition of 'Adoration of the Magi' painted by Leonardo in 1480-2 probably would have been the first secular depiction of a horseman on a rearing horse done using newly developed oil paints if the painting were completed.

Studies of the horses and horsemen, 781DR recto,cr. 1480, Leonardo da Vinci
Studies of the horses and horsemen, 781DR recto,
cr. 1480, Leonardo da Vinci
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A rider on a rearing horse,1481-2, Leonardo da Vinci
A rider on a rearing horse,
1481-2, Leonardo da Vinci
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The Adoration of the Magi,1480-2, Leonardo da Vinci
The Adoration of the Magi,
1480-2, Leonardo da Vinci
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Unfortunately, this painting was left unfinished. Leonardo wrote to the Duke of Milan Ludovico Sforza, offering the Duke his services, and was given the employment. Among other projects mentioned in the letter, Leonardo has described his idea of a gigantic bronze equestrian monument to commemorate the glory of the Duke’s father Francesco Sforza.

It appears that Ludovico Sforza liked the idea and asked several artists to submit their designs. On Antonio Pollaiuolo’s drawing, the horse is also rearing, but the horseman holds a sword. On Leonardo’s drawing, which won the competition but had to be redesigned because it proved impossible to cast, Ludovico’s father holds a baton in his right hand (which is outstretched towards the back) and the reins in his left hand.

Study for the Equestrian Monument to Francesco Sforza,early to mid 1480s, Antonio Pollaiuolo
Study for the Equestrian Monument to Francesco Sforza,
early to mid 1480s, Antonio Pollaiuolo
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Study for an equestrian monument,c.1485-90, Leonardo da Vinci
Study for an equestrian monument,
c.1485-90, Leonardo da Vinci
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Four studies for the uncompleted equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza,1490-1510, after Leonardo da Vinci
Four studies for the uncompleted equestrian statue of Francesco Sforza,
1490-1510, after Leonardo da Vinci
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Another Leonardo’s design was chosen instead, and Leonardo delivered a clay model. Shortly after, in 1499, Milan was invaded by French troops led by Gian Giacomo Trivulzio, Leonardo had to flee Milan; French troops used the clay model as a target during their shooting exercises.

Leonardo has eventually found himself in Florence, and was commissioned a wall painting. The subject was the Battle of Anghiari (1440), where Florentines had vanquished the Milanese army. Leonardo's depiction of the battle of Anghiari, despite its expressiveness and ingenuity, has been abandoned for technical reasons, and, subsequently, was painted over by Giorgio Vasari. We only know Leonardo’s painting through the preparatory drawings and copies, most famous of these being Peter Paul Rubens‘s version. Leonardo’s representation of the horsemen and rearing horses is astonishingly dynamic. Vasari’s depiction of the Defeat of the Pisans at the Tower of San Vincenzo, painted in the same Hall of 500 in Palazzo Vecchio, is clearly inspired by Leonardo’s painting, but unfortunately the quality is not comparable.

Copy of the lost Battle of Anghiari by Leonardo da Vinci, 1504-5, circa 1603, Peter Paul Rubens
Copy of the lost Battle of Anghiari by Leonardo da Vinci, 1504-5,
circa 1603, Peter Paul Rubens
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Leonardo returned to Milan in 1506 to work for the very French rulers who had overtaken the city seven years earlier and forced him to flee. Ironically, Gian Giacomo Trivulzio followed in his foe’s footsteps and commissioned da Vinci to sculpt a grand equestrian statue, one that could be mounted on his tomb. Leonardo had designed it, but the statue was never begun.

A sketch for the Trivulzio monument, c. 1508-10, Leonardo da Vinci
A sketch for the Trivulzio monument,
c. 1508-10, Leonardo da Vinci
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Sketches for the Trivulzio monument, c.1508-10, Leonardo da Vinci
Sketches for the Trivulzio monument,
c.1508-10, Leonardo da Vinci
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Judging by the fact that Leonardo’s drawing of Sforza’s monument was in the possession of Francesco Melzi after the death of Leonardo, we can assume that they took it to France when Leonardo was invited by king Francis I of France to live there as “Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect to the King”.

A sculpture of a classical horseman holding a severed head on a base with a relief of a scene of judgement, c. 1440-1470, Jacopo Bellini
A sculpture of a classical horseman holding a severed head on a base with a relief of a scene of judgement,
c. 1440-1470, Jacopo Bellini
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However, Leonardo was not the first Renaissance artist fascinated by the rearing horses. Venitian artist Jacopo Bellini (c.1395 – c.1470) was clearly very fond of the subject. Few of Bellini’s paintings still exist, but his surviving sketch-books (one in the British Museum and one in the Louvre) show his fine technique and imaginative vision. Quite a few of his drawings feature rearing horses, sometimes very predictably (when he depicts St. George’s fight with the dragon), sometimes quite unexpectedly (when he depicts David after he has vanquished Goliath). Probably, it was Jacopo Bellini who has suggested the first (since antiquity) equestrian monument of a ruler on a rearing horse – we find the design in his sketch-book. This design is believed to be submitted for a competition for the monument of Niccolò III d'Este, which was commissioned by his son Leonello d'Este, Marquis of Ferrara. Unfortunately, his design was rejected. It will take almost 200 years for a large scale monument of a horseman on a rearing horse to appear.

Saint Georges fighting the dragon, Jacopo Bellini, Louvre 14r
Saint Georges fighting the dragon,
Jacopo Bellini, Louvre 14r
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The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, Jacopo Bellini, Louvre 16r
The Beheading of St. John the Baptist,
Jacopo Bellini, Louvre 16r
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The Triumph of Bacchus, Jacopo Bellini, Louvre 36r
The Triumph of Bacchus,
Jacopo Bellini, Louvre 36r
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Cupid carries a young satyr on the magic horse Pegasus, Jacopo Bellini, Louvre 39r
Cupid carries a young satyr on the magic horse Pegasus,
Jacopo Bellini, Louvre 39r
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Nine characters; a rider and a horse jump over a tomb, Jacopo Bellini, Louvre 39v+40r
Nine characters; a rider and a horse jump over a tomb,
Jacopo Bellini, Louvre 39v+40r
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Horseman on a horse with fancy harness, Jacopo Bellini, Louvre 47r
Horseman on a horse with fancy harness,
Jacopo Bellini, Louvre 47r
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Fight between five horseman and the dragons, Jacopo Bellini, Louvre 75r
Fight between five horseman and the dragons,
Jacopo Bellini, Louvre 75r
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David mounted on horseback holding up the head of Goliath to a crowd gathered outside the walls of Jerusalem, British Museum 45r (digitally enhanced to make the details more visible)
David mounted on horseback holding up the head of Goliath to a crowd gathered outside the walls of Jerusalem, British Museum 45r (digitally enhanced to make the details more visible)
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More well known ones are perhaps the depictions (there are three versions) of the Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello, the pioneer of visual perspective in art, where a rider on a rearing horse is in the centre of the painting. We can also spot a few horsemen on rearing horses on the left-hand side of another famous Uccello’s painting, The Hunt in the Forest.

The Battle of San Romano,cr.1438-40, Paolo Uccello, tempera on panel
The Battle of San Romano,
cr.1438-40, Paolo Uccello, tempera on panel
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The Hunt in the Forest,cr.1470, Paolo Uccello, tempera, oil and gold on panel
The Hunt in the Forest,
cr.1470, Paolo Uccello, tempera, oil and gold on panel
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Two other early Renaissance artist who would paint horsemen on rearing horses were Biagio d'Antonio and Jacopo da Sellaio. They would work either independently or collaborate. All of his paintings below are the either the wall panels or the decorations of the large chests, one of the trophy furnishings of rich merchants and aristocrats, called cassone: this explains the unusual elongated format of the paintings.

Scenes from the Story of the Argonauts, cr. 1465, Biagio di Antonio and Jacopo del Sellaio
Scenes from the Story of the Argonauts,
cr. 1465, Biagio di Antonio and Jacopo del Sellaio
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The Morelli-Nerli Wedding Chest,1472, Biagio di Antonio, Jacopo del Sellaio and Zanobi di Domenico
The Morelli-Nerli Wedding Chest,
1472, Biagio di Antonio, Jacopo del Sellaio and Zanobi di Domenico
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The Legend of Brutus and Portia,cr. 1485, Jacopo del Sellaio
The Legend of Brutus and Portia,
cr. 1485, Jacopo del Sellaio
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The Siege of Troy, the Death of Hector,1490-5, Biagio d'Antonio
The Siege of Troy, the Death of Hector,
1490-5, Biagio d'Antonio
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The Siege of Troy, the Wooden Horse,1490-5 (?), Biagio d'Antonio
The Siege of Troy, the Wooden Horse,
1490-5 (?), Biagio d'Antonio
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16th century: Horsemen on Rearing Horses are Few and Stylistically Diverse, With One Exception

I could find very few art objects that show horsemen on rearing horses and date back to the 16th century, including perhaps the first one of an English sovereign on a rearing horse. It seems that, during most of the 16 century, the rearing horses were not in vogue.

The Crucifixion with the Converted Centurion, 1538, Lucas Cranach the Elder
The Crucifixion with the Converted Centurion,
1538, Lucas Cranach the Elder
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Reinoud III van Brederode, circa 1550, Cornelis Anthonisz
Reinoud III van Brederode,
circa 1550, Cornelis Anthonisz
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The sacrificial death of Marcus Curtius, 1550-2, Paolo Veronese
The sacrificial death of Marcus Curtius,
1550-2, Paolo Veronese
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Henry VIII of England on Horseback, 1561-99, Hans Liefrinck
Henry VIII of England on Horseback,
1561-99, Hans Liefrinck
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Charles IX, King of France, 1565-99, unknown artist
Charles IX, King of France,
1565-99, unknown artist
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Defeat of the Pisans at the Tower of San Vincenzo,1568-71, Giorgio Vasari
Defeat of the Pisans at the Tower of San Vincenzo,
1568-71, Giorgio Vasari
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The battle of Marciano in Val di Chiana,  1570-1, Giorgio Vasari
The battle of Marciano in Val di Chiana,
1570-1, Giorgio Vasari
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The only exception I am aware of is Deruta ceramics. Deruta is a tiny (population 8935 as of 2007) hill town in Central Italy, half way between Florence and Rome. It is not very well known today, but it used to be famous for its Maiolica ceramics. The city started producing it in the early Middle Ages, and it still makes it. The pick of its popularity was reached in the 15th and early 16th centuries.

Fierce-looking horsemen were a favourite subject on mid-sixteenth-century Deruta maiolica, both lustred and unlustred. Many are dressed as Turkish warriors, but there is a great variety of riders: Roman and Jewish warriors, Saint George, medieval knights and contemporaty soldiers, and even children.

The motif of the horseman was also popular in Faenza and Urbino, other Italian towns renowned for their ceramics, although it was not as popular as in Deruta.

Bowl with a naked boy holding a sail on a galloping horse, 1520-30, possibly Nicola Francioli, Deruta
Bowl with a naked boy holding a sail on a galloping horse,
1520-30, possibly Nicola Francioli, Deruta
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Bergantini cup depicting the history of sacrifice of Marco Curcio, June 17, 1529, Pietro Bergantini, Faenza
Bergantini cup depicting the history of sacrifice of Marco Curcio,
June 17, 1529, Pietro Bergantini, Faenza
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Dish depiting the sacrifice of Marcus Curtius, cr. 1550-60, workshop of Virgiliotto Calamelli, Faenza
Dish depiting the sacrifice of Marcus Curtius,
cr. 1550-60, workshop of Virgiliotto Calamelli, Faenza
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Dish depicting Judas Maccabeus, 16 century, unknown, Deruta
Dish depicting Judas Maccabeus,
16 century, unknown, Deruta
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Dish depicting Saint George and the Dragon, 1530-40, unknown, Deruta
Dish depicting Saint George and the Dragon,
1530-40, unknown, Deruta
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Dish depicting two riders, cr. 1520, unknown, Deruta
Dish depicting two riders,
cr. 1520, unknown, Deruta
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Dish depicting a Lion Hunt, cr. 1520-47, Baldassare Manara, Faenza
Dish depicting a Lion Hunt,
cr. 1520-47, Baldassare Manara, Faenza
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Dish depicting a battle, cr. 1500-10, possibly Mancini workshop, Deruta
Dish depicting a battle,
cr. 1500-10, possibly Mancini workshop, Deruta
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Plate depicting a combat, 1554, possibly Mancini workshop, Deruta
Plate depicting a combat,
1554, possibly Mancini workshop, Deruta
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Dish depicting an episode from the Sack of Rome, 1527: the assault on the Borgo (?), cr. 1540, Workshop of Guido Durantino (Guido Fontana), Urbino
Dish depicting an episode from the Sack of Rome, 1527: the assault on the Borgo (?),
cr. 1540, Workshop of Guido Durantino (Guido Fontana), Urbino
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Plaque depicting Battistone Castellini of Faenza, 3 July 1536, Baldassare Manara, Faenza
Plaque depicting Battistone Castellini of Faenza,
3 July 1536, Baldassare Manara, Faenza
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Dish depicting a Turkish rider, 1520-60, unknown, Deruta
Dish depicting a Turkish rider,
1520-60, unknown, Deruta
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Dish with a horseman, cr. 1540-70, unknown, Deruta
Dish with a horseman,
cr. 1540-70, unknown, Deruta
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Dish depicting a man carrying a spear on a horse, mid 16th century, possibly Mancini workshop, Deruta
Dish depicting a man carrying a spear on a horse,
mid 16th century, possibly Mancini workshop, Deruta
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End of 17 century: Horseman on a Rearing Horse Clichés Appears

As we will see further on, the image of a horseman on a rearing horse became very popular at the end of 17 century. Furthermore, two standard representations of a horseman on a rearing horse have emerged: the horseman is dressed à l’antique or wearing armour with a sash across the chest, and, almost always, holding something, often a martial baton, sometimes a sword, in his right hand.

According to Walter A. Liedtke, it is difficult to find the origins of this cliché; one likely candidate is the series of engravings “The First Twelve Roman Caesars” created by Antonio Tempesta and published by Giovanni Battista di Lazzaro Panzera da Parma in 1596. All of these caesars are sitting on horses, and six of these horses are rearing; five of these six Caesars (all except Nero) hold a baton.

It must be told that Antonio Tempesta was very fond of depicting the reading horses. In one of his engravings from the series “Hunting” feature no less than 6 horsemen on rearing horses. Tempesta has also made several depictions of rearing centaurs.

Tempesta’s engravings might explain the surge of popularity of the image of a horseman on a rearing horse and the ancient world-themed clothing. As for the armour with the sash across the chest, it was not due to a specific object of art; it was simply the fashion of the day. We can see it in Titian‘s portrait of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and on many other portraits up to the beginning of 18 century. Sash is most frequently tied across the chest, but sometimes it could be worn around the waist or even around the upper arm. Baton, sash and armour are the status symbols, and so is the depiction on a rearing horse.

Portrait of the king Henri IV, before 1622, Frans Pourbus the younger
Portrait of the king Henri IV,
before 1622, Frans Pourbus the younger
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Portrait of a soldier, 1st third of 17th century, Anthony van Dyck
Portrait of a soldier,
1st third of 17th century, Anthony van Dyck
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Portrait of Tsar Peter I, 1717, Jean-Marc Nattier
Portrait of Tsar Peter I,
1717, Jean-Marc Nattier
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16 and 17 centuries, Italian Artists: Statuettes and Sculptures

A very interesting bronze horsemen have appeared in the middle of 16 century. It was a restoration of a 3rd century BC Etruscan object: a horseman was discovered, but his horse was missing. So, in 1548 Benvenuto Cellini (Italian, 1500-71) has created a horse to complete the statuette; you can see it below.

Later, Willem Danielsz van Tetrode (Netherlandish, active about 1525 – 1580), who was Cellini’s pupil in 1549-50 (according to other sources, in 1545-49), maybe earlier, has created his own bronze horseman on a rearing horse, also below.

It has been suggested that Willem Danielsz van Tetrode may have trained the young Adriaen de Vries (Dutch, about 1556 – 1626) and encouraged him to go to Florence. While in Florence, Adriaen de Vries was working in Giambologna‘s workshop. Later, thanks to the generous patronage of Rudolf II, Adriaen de Vries has created several rearing horses in different media, also below. The bronze figure of Henry Julius, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg on horseback, made by Adriaen de Vries in 1605, is the first bronze I am aware of that follows the iconography that will become so familiar: rearing horse (two support points), a horseman wearing armour and holding a baton in his right hand.

A Horseman, Cavalier: 3 century BC, Etruscan civilisation; Horse: 1548, Benvenuto Cellini, Italy
A Horseman,
Cavalier: 3 century BC, Etruscan civilisation; Horse: 1548, Benvenuto Cellini, Italy
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Warrior on Horseback, 1562-65, Willem Danielsz van Tetrode, Netherlands
Warrior on Horseback,
1562-65, Willem Danielsz van Tetrode, Netherlands
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Rudolf II on horseback, 1603, Aegidius Sadeler, Marcus Sadeler and Adriaen de Vries, ?
Rudolf II on horseback,
1603, Aegidius Sadeler, Marcus Sadeler and Adriaen de Vries, ?
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Duke Heinrich Julius of Braunschweig on horseback, 1605, Adriaen de Vries, Prague
Duke Heinrich Julius of Braunschweig on horseback,
1605, Adriaen de Vries, Prague
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Rearing Horse, 1605-10, Adriaen de Vries, Netherlands
Rearing Horse,
1605-10, Adriaen de Vries, Netherlands
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Rudolf II introducing the Liberal Arts to Bohemia, 1609, Adriaen de Vries, Prague
Rudolf II introducing the Liberal Arts to Bohemia,
1609, Adriaen de Vries, Prague
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This small selection of the rearing horses is very representative of the way the image of the rearing horse has transformed during 16 century and the beginning of 17 century. It starts with just a few objects, then becomes very fashionable, used primarily for royalties and mythological figures, and also on its own (it was used as table decorations, in the decorations of the fountains, etc.).

Giambologna, born Jean Boulogne, the teacher of Adriaen de Vries, a leading Mannerist sculptor, have created rearing horses and equestrian sculptures, but not one horseman on a rearing horse. It was his best pupil, Pietro Tacca, who became the leading creator of small (less than 1 metre high) bronzes of the horsemen on rearing horses. The most interesting small scale bronze is the oldest one. The horseman is Ferdinando II de' Medici, but the head is probably Peter the Great’s, added by Carlo Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the sculptor at Russian imperial court, and the father of Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli, the chief architect of Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg.

At the end of his life, Tacca has created a large-scale monument of a horseman on a rearing horse. According to a Wikipedia article, the statue of Philip IV was the first completed large-scale monument of a horseman on a rearing horse. Its design was done by Diego Velázquez; it is also said to have been based on the iconography of a lost painting by Peter Paul Rubens. The monument was dedicated in 1640. The daring stability of the statue was calculated by Galileo Galilei: the horse rears, and the entire weight of the sculpture balances on the two rear legs — and, discreetly, its tail — a feat that had never been attempted in a figure on a heroic scale, of which Leonardo had dreamed.

Grand duke Ferdinando II di Medici on Horseback, with the head of Peter the Great, 1615-21, Pietro Tacca, Florence
Grand duke Ferdinando II di Medici on Horseback, with the head of Peter the Great,
1615-21, Pietro Tacca, Florence
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Equestrian statuette of Louis XIII, 1615-17, Pietro Tacca
Equestrian statuette of Louis XIII,
1615-17, Pietro Tacca
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Spare horse for the equestrian statuette of Louis XIII, 1615-17, Pietro Tacca
Spare horse for the equestrian statuette of Louis XIII,
1615-17, Pietro Tacca
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Equestrian monument of Carlo Emmanuele, Duke of Savoy,1619-21, Pietro Tacca
Equestrian monument of Carlo Emmanuele, Duke of Savoy,
1619-21, Pietro Tacca
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Monument to Philip IV, Pietro Tacca, 1634-40, Madrid
Monument to Philip IV, Pietro Tacca,
1634-40, Madrid
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Statue of Victor Amadeus I, Duke of Savoy, 1620s and 1660s, Andrea Rivalta and Federico Vanelli
Statue of Victor Amadeus I, Duke of Savoy,
1620s and 1660s, Andrea Rivalta and Federico Vanelli
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The second large-scale Italian artist-made monument was the statue of Vittorio Amedeo I. This statue has quite a history. According to seetorino.com, Charles Emmanuel I has commissioned an equestrian statue to honour the memory of his father, Emmanuel Philibert. Sculptor Andrea Rivalta from Rome was responsible for the marble part and Federico Vanelli from Lugano was responsible for the bronze part. The sculpture parts were completed but remained in storage in different locations in Turin. Later on Charles Emmanuel II ordered the construction of an equestrian statue to glorify his father, Vittorio Amedeo I, the son of Charles Emmanuel I. Someone has remembered about the unassembled sculpture, and, after the change of facial features, it was unveiled as the statue of Vittorio Amedeo I and is now on display in the Royal Palace of Turin.

The statue of Carlos II was the third such monument. It was dedicated in 1684 in Messina, Sicily, and remained there until a mob has destroyed it during the Sicilian revolution of 1848. Several smaller statuettes of Carlos II were created.

Statue of King Carlos II of Spain and the two Sicilies, 1679-1680, Giacomo Serpotta
Statue of King Carlos II of Spain and the two Sicilies,
1679-1680, Giacomo Serpotta
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Equestrian sculpture of Charles II, 1680, Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Equestrian sculpture of Charles II,
1680, Gian Lorenzo Bernini
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Carlos II on Horseback, erected 1684, destroyed in 1848, Andrea and Gaspare Romano (based on Giacomo Serpotta's model), Messina, Sicily
Carlos II on Horseback,
erected 1684, destroyed in 1848, Andrea and Gaspare Romano (based on Giacomo Serpotta's model), Messina, Sicily
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Carlos II on Horseback, 1698, G.B. Foggini, Prado, Madrid
Carlos II on Horseback,
1698, G.B. Foggini, Prado, Madrid
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Also in 1684, Gian Lorenzo Bernini has completed the statue of Louis XIV and delivered to Versailles; however, Louis XIV disliked it and has put it in a faraway corner of Versailles park so that few could see it. Earlier Bernini has created a statuette of Carlos II using very similar iconography (see above). Other small-scale bronze horsemen on rearing horses continued to appear.

Statue of King Louis XIV, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, 1665-84, Versailles
Statue of King Louis XIV, Gian Lorenzo Bernini,
1665-84, Versailles
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Fernando of Tuscany on Horseback, 1695, Giuseppe Piamontini
Fernando of Tuscany on Horseback,
1695, Giuseppe Piamontini
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Prince Ferdinando di Cosimo III on Horseback, 1717, Giuseppe Piamontini, Florence
Prince Ferdinando di Cosimo III on Horseback,
1717, Giuseppe Piamontini, Florence
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Note that most of these artists belonged to Giambologna’s school. Giovanni Battista Foggini worked with the son of Pietro Tacca, Fernando (as we remember, Pietro Tacca was Giambologna‘s first assistant). After Fernando Tacca’s death, Foggini acquired the foundry that had once belonged to Giambologna and had a very profitable business selling sculptures based on Giambologna‘s models. Giuseppe Piamontini was Foggini’s pupil.

17 to 19 century: the House of Savoy

The Duchy of Savoy has disappeared from the European map, but it used to be one of the greatest European powers. The House of Savoy is one of the oldest royal families in the world (it was founded in 1003). Initially, it was a small county in Savoy (a region between Italy and France). It gradually expanded through annexation of the neighbouring territories, and in 1416 it became a duchy. For 7 years, from 1713 to 1720, it included Sicily. In 1720 the Duke of Savoy was forced to exchange his throne in Sicily for that of the less important Kingdom of Sardinia. Ironically, it was Sardinia that would later unify Italy in the nineteenth century, and the junior branch of the house of Savoy was ruling the Kingdom of Italy since from creation in 1861 till 1946 when Italy became a republic.

Several Savoy rulers have been portrayed on the rearing horses…

Equestrian portrait of Carlo Emmanuele, Duke of Savoy,Raphael Sadeler I, 1580-1600
Equestrian portrait of Carlo Emmanuele, Duke of Savoy,
Raphael Sadeler I, 1580-1600
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Equestrian monument of Carlo Emmanuele, Duke of Savoy,1619-21, Pietro Tacca
Equestrian monument of Carlo Emmanuele, Duke of Savoy,
1619-21, Pietro Tacca
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Equestrian portrait of Prince Tomaso of Savoy-Carignan, 1634-5, Anthony van Dyck
Equestrian portrait of Prince Tomaso of Savoy-Carignan,
1634-5, Anthony van Dyck
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Statue of Victor Amadeus I, Duke of Savoy, 1620s and 1660s, Andrea Rivalta and Federico Vanelli
Statue of Victor Amadeus I, Duke of Savoy,
1620s and 1660s, Andrea Rivalta and Federico Vanelli
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Equestrian portrait of Carlo Emmanuele II of Savoy with his son and heir Vittorio Amedeo, Prince of Piedmont,1673, Giovanni Battista Brambilla
Equestrian portrait of Carlo Emmanuele II of Savoy with his son and heir Vittorio Amedeo, Prince of Piedmont,
1673, Giovanni Battista Brambilla
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Equestrian portrait of Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia,1720-61, Maria Giovanna Clementi
Equestrian portrait of Charles Emmanuel III of Sardinia,
1720-61, Maria Giovanna Clementi
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… but the most portrayed member of Savoy house was not a ruler. Prince Eugene of Savoy