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Visitor trails On Horseback through the Louvre

Thematic trail - Length: 1 hr 30 mins - Tour days: Monday Wednesday Saturday Sunday

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Théodore GÉRICAULT, Course de chevaux, dit traditionnellement
Théodore GÉRICAULT, Course de chevaux, dit traditionnellement

© Musée du Louvre / A. Dequier - M. Bard

00Introduction

Saddle up for a canter through the Louvre!

The horse was the last of the large mammals to be domesticated by man. Ever since, men have used horses to reflect their own dreams of glory. On this trail through the museum, you will discover paintings, sculptures, and other objects illustrating the close relationship between men and their steeds.

 

How to get to the next stop:

Starting from the pyramid, follow the signs for the Sully wing. After the ticket barrier, turn left and take lift G to the ground floor. Turn left out of the lift, then, after room D, turn right. Go into room 11. Go to the display cabinet at the far end of the room and find object 34.

Mors à barre transversale rigide et à plaques figurant un cavalier monté en amazone sur un cheval
Mors à barre transversale rigide et à plaques figurant un cavalier monté en amazone sur un cheval

© 2007 Photo RMN / Franck Raux

01Horse bit

Can you see how this bronze bit fitted onto the horse’s head? The rider slipped the crossbar into the horse’s mouth and adjusted the plain inner surface of the side plaques against its cheeks. Can you see the rings where the reins went through? This bit, which helped the rider direct the horse, was also a valuable ornament. In ancient Iran, five thousand years ago, horses were considered the equal of men and were sometimes even buried in their own grave. The bit is a sign of man’s domination over the horse. Look out for bits on the other horses you will see on this trail.

How to get to the next stop:

Walk through rooms 10 and 9 to room 1a. On leaving room 1a, take the escalator up to the first floor to the Medieval collection of the Department of Decorative Arts and go into room 1.

Feuillet de diptyque en cinq parties : L'Empereur triomphant (Justinien ?)
Feuillet de diptyque en cinq parties : L'Empereur triomphant (Justinien ?)

© 1986 RMN / Pierre et Maurice Chuzeville

02Leaf of a diptych: The Emperor Triumphant

This proud horse, pawing the air with his front hooves, looks as if he wants to break free from the ivory plaque holding him back. See how similar the horse and his rider look. Both are turning towards us, looking in the same direction, and their eyes are the same. Can you see the beautiful pearl on the horse’s forehead? He is wearing the same rich decorations as his master, shown triumphing over the defeated tribes in the panel below. Before moving on, turn around and admire the great emperor Charlemagne on his horse behind you.

How to get to the next stop:

On leaving the room, turn left. Take lift P down to the lower mezzanine floor. Follow the signs to the Cour Marly.

Cheval retenu par un palefrenier dit <i>Cheval de Marly</i>
Cheval retenu par un palefrenier dit <i>Cheval de Marly</i>

© 1997 Musée du Louvre / Pierre Philibert

03Horses restrained by grooms, known as The Marly Horses

The naked man looks almost as wild and untamed as the horse he is holding. Notice how all their muscles are strained with effort. The man and the horse were both sculpted from live models. What clue tells us that the horse has escaped into the wild? That’s right, the rocks underneath the horse’s body. These rocks are used by the sculptor to bear the weight of the statue. This horse does not have a bit in its mouth, as it is still being tamed. It symbolizes man’s ability to control the wild forces of nature.

How to get to the next stop:

Go back to the pyramid and follow the signs to the Sully wing. After the ticket barrier, turn left and take lift G up to the second floor. Turn right out of the lift. Walk straight on to room 61.

Course de chevaux, dit traditionnellementLe derby de 1821 à Epsom
Course de chevaux, dit traditionnellementLe derby de 1821 à Epsom

© Musée du Louvre/A. Dequier - M. Bard

04The Epsom Derby, 1821

How many horses can you count? The only real difference between them is the color – chestnut, brown, gray, or bay. They are all galloping. Their legs are fully outstretched and they almost seem to be floating along above the ground. The jockeys are hunched over their English thoroughbred racehorses. These horses, sired by Eastern stallions from English mares, are as aristocratic as their breeders. Now if you walk around the room, you will see lots of other horse painted by Théodore Géricault.

How to get to the next stop:

Retrace your footsteps back to lift C and go down to the first floor. Turn left and pass through room 74. Walk past the Winged Victory of Samothrace and, on the left, pass through rooms 1 and 2 to find room 3.

La Bataille de San Romano : la contre-attaque de Micheletto da Cotignola.
La Bataille de San Romano : la contre-attaque de Micheletto da Cotignola.

© 1997 RMN / Jean-Gilles Berizzi

05The Battle of San Romano, circa 1440

Can you tell who is leading the battle? Look at the way the horses on the right are standing still, while those on the left are charging ahead with their riders lowering their lances, spread out in a fan shape. In the bottom half of the picture, it is hard to tell the horses’ legs apart from the foot soldiers! They are all there to help their lords win the battle.
Take a couple of steps back and admire the gold disks and the silver armor, now sadly tarnished.
This work, painted on a wood panel, was originally in the palace of the Medici family in Florence. It was the Medicis who won this battle.

How to get to the next stop:

Go into the Grande Galerie, turn immediately to your right and pass through room 4. On the landing, turn left and walk through rooms 75 and 76. In room 77, look at the painting on your right.

Officier de chasseurs à cheval de la garde impériale chargeant
Officier de chasseurs à cheval de la garde impériale chargeant

© 1995 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

06Officer of the Chasseurs commanding a charge

Charge! The rider is turning back to encourage his men to face the enemy. Can you see how the horse – just as important as his rider in this painting – fills a diagonal space on the canvas? The rearing horse with an expression of terror symbolizes the horror of the war shown in the distance. The horse represents all the emotions absent from his rider’s cold, expressionless face. Notice the similarities between the postures of horse and rider – limbs outstretched, their chests and knees following the same curving line.

Louis XIV 1665-1685 Bernini
Look closely at what Louis XIV is wearing. The breastplate, sandals, and cloak are like the clothes worn by the Roman emperors. His calm expression is very different from the wild energy of his steed. The king controls the wild horse just as he controls his subjects. Look towards the triumphal arch at the Carrousel. Ming Pei, who designed the pyramid, placed this lead copy of the sculpture directly in the axis of the line going from the Louvre all the way to the Grande Arche de la Défense in the distance. The original marble sculpture by Bernini is in the Orangerie at Versailles.

How to get to the next stop:

Walk through room 77 and follow the signs to the exit. Leave the pyramid and go and have a closer look at the great statue of Louis XIV on horseback in place Richelieu. That’s all for this visit!

 

Author(s) : 

Cyrille Gouyette