These horses, in Cour Marly at the Louvre Museum in Paris.
|(Credit: John Phillips)
|Credit: Malcolm Craig
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
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
|Place de la Révolution from "Paris pittoresque" circa 1842.
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.
"....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
|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.
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.
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.