08 July 2012

Marly Horses and Pittsburgh Horses

From Paris to Pittsburgh, let's talk about horses.

These horses, in Cour Marly at the Louvre Museum in Paris. 

(Credit: John Phillips)

Credit: Malcolm Craig

And these horses, at the Stanton Avenue entrance to Pittsburgh's Highland Park. 

Whither, Marly Withers?
These 400 year old monumental creatures reflected a love of horse culture in pre-Revolutionary France. France's Sun King Louis XIV converted an old royal hunting lodge into the Palace of Versailles over the course of four extended building campaigns. The result was spectacular, of course, but it meant the court needed a practical new home for its Royal Hunt. In 1679 architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart obliged by beginning work on Château de Marly du Roi, built on land adjacent to Versailles.

Practical, of course, is in the eyes of the beholder. Marly became 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. 

Château de Marly, by Pierre-Denis Martin, 1724
When it was completed, Château de Marly du Roi was an extraordinary royal hunting lodge for the guys. It featured a dozen individual pavilions surrounded by exquisitely landscaped settings. The gardens were kept well-supplied with water by an enormous pump known as the Machine de Marly, which forced the water from the Seine up to a reservoir above the gardens. 

Départ de Chasse à Marly, c1720-30 by Martin le Jeune. Musée du Domaine Royal de Marly


Even the royal horses enjoyed the good life from their own in-ground swimming pool. That Grand Abreuvoir à Chevaux can be seen in the foreground of these paintings. 
Of course, such excess needed over-the-top decoration.



French sculptor Charles Antoine Coysevox was commissioned to create a grouping of two marble equestrian subjects to decorate Château de Marly. These pieces were installed by 1701 on either side of the horse pond. The riders are Renommée (aka Fame of the King) and his companion Mercure, both astride Pegasus, and they represented Louis XIV's personal dominance in times of both peace and war.

Louis had nearly two decades to enjoy his royal hunting lodge at Marly. Upon his death in 1718, it was decided that his five year old heir and namesake would have little use for a hunting lodge. The Regency Council did find it prudent to refurbish the decrepit public Tuileries Garden for the child-king, however, and statuary was a must. So in 1719 Renommée and Mercure were saddled up and moved from Marly to the western entrance of the Tuilleries Garden park.

But when the adult Louis XV developed an interest in his great-grandfather's former hunting lodge at Marly, the place had to be spiffed up. After all, what's an in-ground equine swimming pool without massive Carrara marble horse sculptures guarding its entrance? Rather than descend on the Tuilleries to move the original equestrian statues once again, in 1739 a second group of horses was commissioned from Coysevox's nephew and former student, Nicolas Coustou.

When creating these new 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
This second set of Horse Tamers was completed by a younger brother of Nicholas, Guillaume Coustou.

Lucky for the Horse Tamers - and for us - that they were magnificently done. During the French Révolution anything that was connected with monarchy or theology was usually destroyed or vandalized by the mob. The sheer artistry of the Coysevox horses eclipsed any monarchical associations with a self-proclaimed godlike king, and that in turn allowed these sculptures to survive unscathed during a time when France destroyed much of its artistic heritage due to perceived monarchist or religious associations.

This pair of horse tamers was equally esteemed. 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 foot of the Champs-Elysées.

Place de la Révolution from "Paris pittoresque" circa 1842.

Alas, their old home Château de Marly du Roi did not fare as well. It was left to deteriorate, and much damage was done to the estate during the Révolution. The property was ultimately sold, and the château was leveled and sold off in bits and pieces. Napoleon I acquired the estate in 1811, and it was subsequently used by French heads of state for hunting until 2006. It has since been preserved as gracious and expansive park grounds, and vestiges of the central royal pavilion, a pond, and the main lake remain today.

Modern Marly
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 today we have the original Marly Horses to admire as museum pieces at the Louvre:

The Pittsburgh Horse-Tamers
You don't need to travel to Paris to see horse-taming sculpture. Pittsburgh has its own regional versions outside the Stanton Avenue entrance to Highland Park.

These sculptures may seem odd civic choices for a 19th century public park entrance in über-industrial Pittsburgh, but in context of their time the horse-tamers made sense. 
Writers had long contemplated such equine sculptures and what they stood for in society: 
 "....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.....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, V. 62, 1837
Granted, Pittsburgh's historical legacy was but a fleeting shadow of France's. But artists of this era often emulated and adapted the artistic mastery of earlier centuries in hopes of manifesting grandeur by association.  
The horse tamers had been popularly replicated in many places, so why not Pittsburgh? In 1900 when they were installed, the city was seeking a cultural veneer and accordingly chose the kinds of decorative embellishments that graced grand urban areas. 

The subject made sense. If horse tamer portrayals had for centuries celebrated man's mastery over wild nature, that theme certainly resonated for Pittsburghers who had witnessed a century's worth of industrial dominance. Coke and steel mills had left denuded forests quaking in submission all across Western Pennsylvania. 
More practically, horse taming was also an activity that would have been familiar to residents of the time. Horses were still ubiquitous in daily life, and equine equipage, livery, and management were sources of pride. 
A horse is a horse, of course, but the Highland Park horses carried layers of meaning.

1960, Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection, University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh's Horse Tamers were created and installed at Highland Park in 1900 by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Moretti, who had 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 create and adorn Pittsburgh's boulevards and parks with sculpture.
Pittsburghers know Moretti's work, even if they don't know they know it. There are his four panthers adorning the Panther Hollow Bridge, his controversial Stephen Foster Memorial statue in Oakland's Schenley Plaza near the Carnegie Museums (at least until its removal by popular acclaim in 2018), and his imposing pillars at the main entrance to Highland Park. 
His Pittsburgh horses, though, are less well-recognized by residents. Even so, the Smithsonian American Art Museum recognized Moretti's Pittsburgh Horses as scaled-down replicas of the Coustou group of Marly Horses. 
The Pittsburgh Horses were done in bronze, finished in a green antique patina, and placed upon granite piers.
One of the 1901 Moretti Horse Tamers with an early steam automobile, Highland Park Stanton Avenue entrance.
Thomas Mellon Galey Photographs, Detre Library & Archives, Heinz History Center

An A for effort and intent is merited, but Moretti was no Coustou.

An artistic critique of Moretti's Pittsburgh Horses cannot ignore that the proportion of man to horse is, well, a bit off. Moretti's tail was at least a little perkier, we can give him that much. But he didn't have the skill to capture the terrific muscular strain of the tamer in action, and his horse looks more annoyed than terrified by restraint.

Moretti's Horse Tamer, 1922, Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection, University of Pittsburgh

And while this is a matter of personal taste, an argument can be made that the green patina of these bronze sculptures is not nearly as inviting as the pristine veining of Carrerra marble. 

"As one muses on their past, what acts, what words, what shades rise up in judgment!As local architectural witnesses to recreational history, the Pittsburgh Horses have stood vigil to a century-long parade of dog-walkers, tennis players, and park-goers. Hardly history on the same scale as that witnessed by the Marly Horses, they are nonetheless Pittsburgh's own beloved Horse Tamers, born of skewed Perspective and verdigris, Guardians of Tennis Courts and Highland Park.

1 comment:

  1. Love your blog. As a newcomer to the Pittsburgh area and a lover of both history and art, I will be visiting often. ~ Nicole