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Marcus Aurelius on Horseback
Marcus Aurelius on Horseback - Sculpture Style Marcus Aurelius on Horseback - Marcus Aurelius on Horseback - Antiquités - Marcus Aurelius on Horseback
Ref : 104162
16 000 €
Period :
19th century
Provenance :
Medium :
Bronze marble
Dimensions :
l. 7.09 inch X H. 23.23 inch X P. 13.39 inch
Sculpture  - Marcus Aurelius on Horseback 19th century - Marcus Aurelius on Horseback  - Marcus Aurelius on Horseback
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Classical Sculpture

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Marcus Aurelius on Horseback

Italian (Rome), 19th century
Bronze, chocolate brown patina /white marble base
After the Antique: Capitoline Museum, Rome

H 59 x W 18 x D 34 cm
H 23¼ x W 7 x D 13? in

This bronze is based on the famous bronze equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius that had been standing on the Piazza del Campidoglio in Rome until 1981, when it was taken down for restoration and replaced by a replica. The history of this statue is quite uncertain but most scholars agree that it can be traced back to at least the tenth century and probably dates back from even much earlier. In 1187, Pope Clement III, when aggrandizing the Lateran Palace in Rome, had the statue installed in front of the palace. In 1538 Pope Paul III had it transferred to the Capitol and commissioned Michelangelo to design a new marble base for it.

Apart from the?group of Alexander?and Bucephalus this?was the most?important statue to?survive unburied?from antiquity.?During the Middle?Ages it attracted a?number of fanciful?legends and a wide?variety of names. By?far the most?important of these?was Constantine,?and it was probably?due to this?association with the?Christian Emperor?that it survived?intact after the downfall of paganism and the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. Although there were many equestrian imperial statues, they rarely survived because it was practice to melt down bronze statues for reuse as coins or new sculptures in the late empire. Moreover, statues were also destroyed because medieval Christians thought that they were pagan idols. The statue of Marcus Aurelius was not melted down because in the Middle Ages it was incorrectly thought to portray the first Christian Emperor Constantine. Indeed, it is the only fully surviving bronze statue of a pre-Christian Roman emperor. By the late twelfth century however, the name of Constantine was generally refuted and the statue became gradually identified with various heroes of the ancient Roman Republic –either Marcus Curtius, whose valour in plunging into a chasm in order to save the State had been celebrated by Livy, or a warrior whose deeds were variously recorded but who was credited with having captured a foreign besieging Rome ‘during the time of the consuls and senators’. For this he had been awarded with the equestrian statue which he had asked for. It showed him with his arm outstretched to seize the king while a cuckoo sat on the horse’s head, because that bird’s cry had signaled the whereabouts of the king. A visitor to Rome early in the thirteenth century explained that one or other of these stories (with some variations) was believed by the cardinals and officials of the Curia, while pilgrims thought that the figure was Theodoric and the people clung to the name of Constantine. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries various emperors were proposed: Septimus Severus, Lucius Verus, Antoninus Pius and Hadrian among them. The humanist Bartolomeo Platina, who became the librarian of Sixtus IV, was the first to suggest the name of Marcus Aurelius. From 1600 this became almost universally accepted.

Admiration for this sculpture had been unwaning throughout most of its history. Its influence has been detected in numerous statues from the Renaissance onwards. A famous example is Etienne-Maurice Falconet’s ‘bronze horseman’, even though Falconet himself was a very outspoken critic of the Marcus Aurelius claiming that statue was based on bad observation, was unnatural and ill, heavy and-proportioned.

Already in the mid-fifteenth century Filarete made a bronze reduction (now in Dresden). Antico is known to have made another bronze statuette around 1496 and others were produced by both Italian and Northern sculptors during the course of the sixteenth century. Apart from that the Marcus Aurelius was engraved more than any other work of antiquity (separately as well as in collections of prints).

As in the Renaissance so in the eighteenth century small copies were frequent – in bronze, in plaster and on cameos and intaglios. Also many large-scale versions were made. For example, a plaster cast was probably made for François Ier and sent to Fontainebleau. Enthusiastic praise of the Marcus Aurelius can be found in every century, perhaps reaching a peak in the second half of the 17th century. A very similar story was repeated of Michelangelo, of Pietro da Cortona and of Bernini and Carlo Maratta, each of whom was alleged to have adressed the statue with the words ‘Move on, then; don’t you know that you’re alive?’ In 1671 Colbert’s son found it ‘one of the most beautiful statues in Rome’, in the next generation Addison thought that is was one of the ‘Four finest Figures perhaps that are now extant’, while Caylus noted that it was ‘magnificent ... it gives infinite pleasure’.

Related Literature:

C.Caprino, La Colonna di Marco Aurelio, (Rome - 1955).
A.R.Birley, Marcus Aurelius, a Biography, (London - 1966/R 2000).
L.Vogel, The Column of Antoninus Pius, (Cambridge, MA - 1973).
G.A.Mansuelli, Roma e il mondo romano, II (Turin - 1981).
A.Claridge, ‘Postscript: Further Considerations on the Carving of the Frieze on the Column of Marcus Aurelius’, Journal of Roman Archaeology, XVIII, (2005).
M.Beckmann: ‘The Border of the Frieze of the Column of Marcus Aurelius and its Implications’, Journal of Roman Archaeology, VIII, (2005).

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