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Work Laconian horse

Department of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities: Archaic Greek Art (7th-6th centuries BC)

Horse

© 2003 RMN / Hervé Lewandowski

Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities
Archaic Greek Art (7th-6th centuries BC)

Author(s):
Marie-Bénédicte Astier

This bronze horse is one of a number of animal statuettes dedicated at Olympia and other large temples in the 8th century BC. The rectangular plate on which it stands indicates that the figure may have originally adorned some wooden object, or that it was perhaps attached to an offering tablet. Various artistic influences can be seen, but the statuette displays mostly Laconian characteristics, including the tail (which rests on an appendix to the base) and the animal's general proportions.

Votive animal figurines

In addition to small horse figurines that were attached to tripod handles on studded cauldrons, the bronzesmiths of the Geometric period produced large numbers of free-standing animal statuettes. These mostly depicted horses, but also featured cows, deer, and birds. Though modest in size, these figurines were considered prestigious offerings, more precious than their terra-cotta counterparts because of the scarcity of bronze. They were found in abundance in major sanctuaries such as Olympia, Delphi, and the Acropolis at Athens. Some were mounted on a base with openwork decoration, while others - like this one - stood on a flat rectangular plate engraved with chevrons on the back. According to one theory, the presence of this plate beneath the hooves of a horse indicates that the figure originally adorned a wooden object, or that it was attached to an offering tablet. It was solid-cast in the late 8th century BC using the lost-wax method, the bronze being poured into the animal's muzzle.

An artistic preference for horses

The horse is the animal that is most often depicted in the Geometric period, both in small statuary and on ceramics. It is a noble animal and a sign of the social status of the dedicant (generally a member of the aristocracy). This ex-voto, dedicated at Olympia, may also have suggested the contests and horse races that took place in the sanctuary. The animal has a very stylized silhouette: the muzzle and the legs have a tubular aspect to them; the mane is suggested by a bulge that curves at the top of the neck; and the eyes are two slight hollows in the metal surface. The design of the body is analogous to that seen in the painted decoration of vases from the same period.

A Laconian work with various influences

For a number of reasons, this object is a Laconian creation, testifying to the ascendancy of Sparta over the sanctuary at Olympia in the latter half of the 8th century BC. The proportions of the horse, the length of the mane, the prominent chest, the elongated legs, and the rectangular appendix to the base that supports the horse's tail are all characteristic of figurines that were produced in quantity in Laconia by artists who were dependent on Sparta. Nevertheless, the piece displays certain features that were not used by these artisans. The animal's shoulders and thighs are made of very thin, slightly rounded metal sheets, thus using a minimum of material to suggest volume. This practice was inspired by a Corinthian method. The base, which lacks the openwork design found in most Laconian examples, has more in common with pieces from Argos. The composition of this statuette is thus a reflection of the stylistic diversity that can be seen in the production of these bronze votives in the closing decades of the Geometric period.

Bibliography

Zimmermann J.-L., Les Chevaux de bronze dans l'art géométrique grec, Mayence, 1989, n 155, p. 134, pp. 162-163, p. 169, pl. 36-37, pl. 74-75.

Technical description

  • Horse

    Last quarter of 8th century BC

    Provenance: Olympia

    Laconian style

  • Bronze

    H. 8.6 cm

  • Acquired in 1912 , 1912

    Br 89

  • Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Antiquities

    Sully wing
    1st floor
    Bronzes room
    Room 663
    Display case M1: Greece, Geometric period (9th–8th century BC)

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