Artworks over the years have sported multifarious motifs including mythological characters, landscapes, flora, and fauna imagery. The same motifs have been reinterpreted disparately by several artistic masterminds, breathing new life into mundane objects and beings.
One such recurring imagery is that of horses that are beautifully fabricated on canvas applauding their dainty gallops, their marvelous speed, and of course, their unconventional beauty. Due to this, horses are featured in historic religious paintings, fight sequences, and even, countryside landscapes.
While there are widespread horse paintings, each masterpiece has an unparalleled uniqueness to flaunt. From biblical horse to the American West, you will appreciate the beauty of horses in different lights. So, let’s join these horses on a ride back in the past to revisit some glorious horse paintings.
A Brief History of Horses in Paintings
Horses have been imbued in artistic engravings and paintings for eons with the first representation drawn in the famous Lascaux caves of France, aging at least 16,000 years or more. Even in ancient Egypt, Grecian and Roman art, the inclusions of horses into paintings were abundant because their anatomy has been studied meticulously throughout ages.
We can see horses even in the religious scenery of the Christian and Byzantine era after which they made an appearance in Renaissance art. In the 14th century, classic painters like Leonardo Da Vinci and Raphael sketched out gorgeous and feisty horses, carving them into masterpieces with exceptional technical prowess.
Furthermore, painters like Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck shouldered this artistic tradition in the Baroque era as well. Horses also became muses for Impressionist artist Edgar Degas who painted racing scenes along with John Fredrick and Henry Thomas. Lastly, this motif still continues in the 20th century in Cubism, Surrealism, and Expressionism.
Famous Horse Paintings
As the history of horse painting makes their presence in art crystal clear, let’s explore some of these revered works of art.
The Battle of Anghiari by Leonardo Da Vinci
The battle of Anghiari was one of the most significant battles in the history of Florentine which is why the authorities paid Da Vinci and a young Michelangelo to work on this painting. It is rumored that the painting was never completed but was only made from sketches and copies of the master painters.
The excruciating detail with which it is sketched out and painted can only be deemed as a work of a master painter. Da Vinci through this wanted to portray the frenzy and panic-stricken atmosphere of a war or battle. The utter chaos is evident here through the exaggerated and distressed faces of the soldiers along with the disturbed movement of the horses where their legs seem to be going haywire.
The Polish Rider by Rembrandt Van Rijn
Hand-painted by the Dutch master, Rembrandt, this painting features a heroic man reeking of pride with his dignified posture, mounted on his warrior horse. The title came from the attire and horse of the said heroic warrior, all of which is said to be originating from Polish. Some say this is a reproduction of a celebration warrior of Europe returning triumphantly from the land of the Turks.
The warrior may also be seen as an embodiment or symbol of victory rather than an actual portrait of a warrior. The rugged look of the hair and the luminosity of the attire really enlivens up the whole painting. Moreover, Rembrandt drew this when there wasn’t a wave of equestrian-themed paintings.
Conversion of St Paul by Caravaggio
St Paul received the divine light from Jesus in the Bible which is portrayed here using an angelic white color palette showering all over the canvas. This painting doesn’t just depict brilliant tints and intriguing minuscule details but offers a fresher and newer perspective provided by classic and renaissance painters for so long. This is so as usually the background of the painting outshined the figurines in the painting.
But, here there is no architectural or structuring boundary to tell the viewer where the action is happening in the sense that the canvas is fully utilized from side to side. It makes for a very dramatic and high-impact composition due to this feature. The arms of St Paul stretch out to receive whereas the horse covers the canvas absorbing the light in a physically unstable state.
St George and the Dragon by Raphael
This masterpiece was churned out by the master painter, Raphael as an inspiration from his contemporary, Leonardo Da Vinci in 1505. Instead of the brave soldier, the luminescent white horse is being emphasized here shown in a powerful neighing movement.
Taking St George who was the patron saint of England, Raphael mixes English tastes with that of Christian myth. This is an imagined reproduction of the actual slaying of the dragon. This composition is a brilliant miscellany of bravery and innocence on rugged terrain and under an utterly simplistic blue sky.
The Bottom Line
The juxtaposed ferociousness and tenderness, as well as swiftness and steadiness of horses, won over the hearts of many master artists who made them their muse. Horses are both domestic creatures as well as champions took into war—this versatility intrigued and appealed the most to painters. These gorgeous, multifarious horse paintings painted throughout time beautifully portray the magnificence of the horses.