Horses in Art

The History of the horse in art is one that spans thousands of years, and goes back to before the horse was first domesticated. The discoveries of rock paintings at Lascaux and Avignon in France have provided us with an insight , not only in to the very early artists, but also of the physical appearance of the primitive horse. That these paintings have survived at all is unbelievable, but when you consider their date of approximately 20,000 BC, and compare this to the condition they are in, is it quite astonishing.

Significance of Cave Paintings. Both the Sites at Lascaux and Avignon are buried in deep underground caves, and perhaps this has largely contributed to their preservation. It is interesting to consider why these paintings were done in such inaccessible places and whether they were depictions of what early man considered to be spiritual or god-like animals. Alternatively , they could simply have been portrayals in admiration of the fierce and wild spirit of the early horses.

One vivid drawing is the picture of a horse at Niaux, in the mid-Pyrenees. Carefully drawn with the heavy black outline, it bears a striking resemblance to Przewalski’s horse. Others, at the site at Vallon-Point-d’Arc, are depicted with flowing lines and bold colour and are so detailed that it is possible to pick out spotted markings similar to the Appaloosa.


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Carvings of Nineveh and Nimrud. Pictures of the horse through the centuries provide us with a tremendous information, ranging from the horse in society, to how the horse developed. Another great source of pictures comes from the Assyrian people of the Middle East, and the best of these are in the Assyrian Ashurbanipal Hunting Relief Large. This relief was found in the Ashurbanipal Palace, Nineveh. It is from 645 B.C. and can now be found in the British Museum.

Form of bas-reliefs carvings in the palaces from Niveveh date back approximately to 645 BC and give a vivid portrayal of the times. They include carvings of an exotic lion hunt with the king in his chariot. Standing alongside are the beautifully and evocatively displayed horses, tense with the excitement of the chase.

They even showing the harnessing and tack that were being used on the horses. The horses appear muscular and in good condition , obviously well looked after, but are depicted with a typical, straight legged movement it is many years before horses were shown with a natural movement in their gait.

The relief’s at Nimrud, which date to approximately 865-860 BC, are equally as vivid as those at Nineveh. They show mounted archers riding mounted bareback on powerful looking stallions, while aiming their bows. Again, the relief’s show the elaborate bridles that were in use and a type of decorative neck hanging with tassels.

Horse Sculptures, perhaps some of the most early amazing sculptures are the four figurines of the early gilded copper horses which reside in the Basilica San Marco, Venic. These horses date back to the third of forth century BC and stand larger than life size. They are believed to have been produced by the Greek sculptor Lysippus and are wonderfully proud and mascular. They are fairly atomically correct, very life like.

Horses have been depicted in the history af art for their strength and beauty. This such depiction has been the subject of many an artist, that has continued to this day.

And, being a very popular subject, can only enrich art as a tribute to the horse.


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