The Marly Horses Sculptures of Paris
That's me, somewhere down there, wandering the Louvre Museum and thrilling at the sight of the Marly Horses.
|Cour Marly, by John Phillips|
My first glimpse of the horses was of Cour Marly from the hall several floors above. They looked like chess figures from that distance.
|Photo by Malcolm Craig|
But of course they're much larger close up.
Whither, Marly Withers?
So here's the tale of some tail. Over the course of four extended building campaigns, France's Sun King Louis XIV converted a royal hunting lodge into the Palace of Versailles. Because of that transformation, he was in need of a new location for the Royal Hunt. In 1679 architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart obliged the king by beginning work on Château de Marly du Roi on land adjacent to Versailles.
Marly was to Louis and the guys what Hameau de la Reine would later be to Marie Antoinette and the gals: a place to kick back and relax in a less formal environment, away from constant court scrutiny and protocol.
Marly was equipped with a dozen individual pavilions surrounded by exquisitely landscaped settings.
|Château de Marly, by Pierre-Denis Martin, 1724. Wikipedia Commons.|
Château de Marly du Roi: better than your average hunting lodge.
As can be seen in the foreground of the above painting, even the horse trough was superior. The Grand Abreuvoir à Chevaux at Marly was basically an in-ground equine swimming pool.
French sculptor Charles Antoine Coysevox was commissioned to create a grouping of two marble equestrian subjects to decorate Château de Marly, which were installed by 1701 on either side of the horse pond. You can see them in the painting above. Coysevox's Renommée (aka Fame of the King) and companion Mercure, both astride Pegasus, represented Louis XIV's personal dominance in times of both peace and war.
|Renommée, from Wikipedia Commons|
Eventually, though, Louis XV developed an interest in his grandfather's estate at Marly. In 1739, to replace the original pair, he commissioned a second group of horses fromm Coysevox's nephew and former student Nicolas Coustou.
After all, what's an in-ground equine swimming pool without massive Carrara marble horse sculptures guarding its entrance?
When creating his hew horse sculptures, Coustou was likely inspired by the marble Dioscuri or Horse Tamers from the Quirinal Palace in Rome, themselves 4th century copies of Greek originals. Coustou's pieces represent what the Louvre's website describes as:
...the struggle between two wild forces: an untamed horse and a naked man....The powerful, thick-necked horse shows every sign of panic and anger: rearing up, tossing its head and whinnying, with dilated eyes and nostrils, and a tousled mane. The almost invincible force of nature seems about to break free again. Wherever the spectator stands, the impression of movement, strength, and violent struggle is perceptible. A moment in time has been captured, heralding something of the Romantic works of Géricault. Indeed, Victor Hugo admired "those neighing marbles [...] prancing in a cloud of gold". Coustou claimed to have sculpted (American) Indian slaves, which explains the quiver and feathered headdress that have fallen to the ground in the struggle. The reference is approximate (one groom appears to be from the West, the other African), but the sculpture prefigures Rousseau's idea of the "noble savage" - an idea already propagated by the accounts of travelers and missionaries. ~ from Louvre: Marly Horses
|Photos from Wikipedia Commons|
Lucky for the Horse Tamers that they were so magnificently done. During the French Révolution anything that was connected with monarchy or theology was usually destroyed or vandalized. The superior artistry of the Coysevox set eclipsed any monarchical associations with a once-glorious self-proclaimed godlike king. That's what allowed these sculptures to survive during a time when France destroyed so much of its artistic heritage due to monarchist or religious associations.
In 1795, on the orders of the painter David, the Coustou statues were saddled up and moved to Place de la Révolution (now Place de la Concorde), at the bottom of the Champs-Elysées.
|Place de la Révolution from "Paris pittoresque" circa 1842. Source: Wikipedia Commons|
Château de Marly du Roi itself did not fare as well. Left to deteriorate, much damage was done during the Révolution. The property was sold, and the château leveled and sold off in bits and pieces. Napoleon later bought the estate. It has since been preserved as gracious and expansive park grounds.
In 1984, both sets of Marly Horses were moved to the Richelieu wing at the Louvre to be conserved. They were replaced by cement copies at the Place de la Concorde and at Marly.
And thus, today we have the Marly Horses to admire at the Louvre:
|Photo by Tee McNeill|
The Pittsburgh Horse-Tamers
The theme of man's native intelligence dominating the strength of noble and wild beasts has resonated over time, so horse-taming sculptures have been replicated in many places. You don't have to travel to Paris to see a version of these horsies, because we have our own regional versions of the Horse Tamer sculptures outside the Stanton Avenue entrance to Pittsburgh's Highland Park.
According to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which inventories and records such things, the Pittsburgh Horses are bronze statues finished in a green antique patina set upon granite piers. They are scaled-down replicas of the Coustou group of Marly Horses.
|One of the 1901 Moretti Horse Tamers with early steam automobile, Highland Park Stanton Avenue entrance|
Thomas Mellon Galey Photographs, Detre Library & Archives, found on Historic Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh's Horse Tamers were created and installed at Highland Park in 1900 by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti, who migrated to Pittsburgh by way of Croatia and Austria. Moretti came to public attention in the States after being retained by Richard Morris Hunt, renowned Gilded Age architect of the Vanderbilt family. Hunt commissioned Moretti to work on the interiors of William K. Vanderbilt Sr's Marble House. Moretti's work there was a hit, and led to an invitation by the director of Pittsburgh's parks and public works, Edward M. Bigelow, to come here to create and adorn Pittsburgh's boulevards and parks with sculpture.
We Pittsburghers know Moretti's work as part of our everyday experience: the four panthers that adorn the Panther Hollow Bridge; the controversial Stephen Foster Memorial statue in Oakland at Schenley Plaza near the Carnegie Museums; and the imposing entrance to Highland Park itself.
An artistic critique of Moretti's Pittsburgh Horses reveals that the proportions of the men to horses are, well, somewhat off. The green patina of these bronze sculptures is not nearly as inviting as is Carrerra marble. As our own architectural witnesses to history, the Pittsburgh Horses have watched dog-walkers, tennis players, and park-goers for only a century -- hardly history on the same scale as that witnessed by the Marly Horses.
"....Consider these restive horses opposite careering on the self-same pedestals, from the day that Marly yielded them in 1790. They must have been the last object to catch the eye of the unfortunate king on the fatal scaffold, and the first to catch the eye of the emperor, when, after Austerlitz, he made his entry into Paris at the head of the grand armée by the Champs Elysées. In presence of the cynicism of those statues, my country has proclaimed the supreme wisdom of no less than sixteen political constitutions, each the product of her passion, and each an unconscious exposition of her impotence. The horses of Marly! As one muses on their past, what acts, what words, what shades rise up in judgment! A hundred years of Montespan, Pompadours, Du Barrys, at Marly and two years of the avenging Reign of Terror on the Place de la Révolution! Here, for half an age, has a Babel of nations paraded, now in victory, now in idle curiosity; still those Marly horses stand where it found them. They are marble, we are animated flesh. Yet see their stern sentinelate; and do they not seem the substance, and we but a fleeting shadow?"
~ John Estagel, Mon Ami Perot in Bentley's Miscellany, Vol 62 by Charles Dickens, Albert Smith and William Harrison Ainsworth.
They are nonetheless Pittsburgh's own beloved Horse Tamers, born of skewed Perspective and verdigris, Guardians of Tennis Courts and Highland Park.