Greek bronze statuette of a horse
Period: Greek, Argos, Geometric period, 8th century B.C.
Dimensions: Height: 7.6 cm, length: 6.4 cm
Ex-US private collection, New York, acquired on December 17, 1990.
Complete and in excellent condition. Surface
slightly worn and covered with a smooth patina
consisting of copper oxide and corrosion products
(especially on the inside of the legs).
This statuette depicts a horse standing alert on its four legs. The shape is both highly stylized and elegant, with a short and very slim cylindrical body and rounded hindquarters that taper down to thin legs. The long tail curls energetically towards the hooves and is almost attached to them. The blade-like neck emerges from the shoulders in a graceful curve that holds the head high. The small ears point forward; this, along with its erect posture, gives the animal an air of pride and alertness. A depression visible on one side of the head models the eye. No engraving represents additional details of the anatomy; however, the indication of the animal’s sex is notable. Ownership of horses during the Geometric period was a sign of prestige and wealth, as their maintenance involved great expense. Greek mythology made the horse a favorite animal of both gods and heroes.
The statuette is solid-cast in one piece. The areas of the bronze surface that are free of oxides reveal the perfect smoothness of the original blackish patina. This piece is not attached to the usual rectangular base; instead, the pairs of hooves are connected by a crossbar (still in place), indicating that the statuette was fixed to some kind of device that made it part of a bigger composition.
In Greek art, figurines of horses often surmounted lids and handles of certain vessels; they decorated handles of bronze tripod cauldrons, which could well be the case for the present piece. Other similar figurines of horses were used as pendants; some were suspended in sanctuaries as votive offerings. Statuettes with bases were exclusively votive offerings.
Larger objects, such as tripods dedicated to sanctuaries, were considered to be the most significant and valuable offerings.
The style indicates that this piece comes from an Argive workshop. Most of the known Argive horses were found in the sanctuary of Hera in Argos.
COMSTOCK M.B. and VERMEULE C.C., Greek, Etruscan and Roman Bronzes in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Boston, 1971, pp. 7-10.
HOFFMANN H., Ten Centuries that Shaped the West, Mainz/Rhine, 1970, pp. 117-129.
ROLLEY C., Greek Bronzes, London, 1986, p. 234. VON BOTHMER D. (ed.), Glories of the Past: Ancient Art from the Shelby White and Leon Levy Collection, New York, 1990, pp. 92-96.
ZIMMERMANN J.-L., Les chevaux de bronze dans l’art géométrique grec, Mainz/Rhine, 1989, pp. 18-59.