Leonardo's horse (also known as Gran Cavallo) is a sculpture that was commissioned of Leonardo da Vinci in 1482 by Duke of Milan Ludovico il Moro, but not completed. It was intended to be the largest equestrian statue in the world, a monument to the duke's father Francesco. Leonardo did extensive preparatory work for it, but produced only a clay model, which was destroyed by French soldiers when they invaded Milan in 1499, interrupting the project. About five centuries later, Leonardo's surviving design materials were used as the basis for sculptures intended to bring the project to fruition.
In 1977, Charles Dent, a United Airlines pilot, began work to complete the unfinished sculpture in Allentown, Pennsylvania. His efforts to set up an organization to finance the project proved a difficult task that required more than 15 years. The projected cost of the horse came to nearly US$2.5 million. Dent died of Lou Gehrig's disease in 1994, leaving his private art collection to LDVHI (Leonardo da Vinci's Horse, Inc.), the sale of which brought more than $1 million to the fund. In 1988, LDVHI enlisted sculptor/painter Garth Herrick to begin part-time work on the horse.
By 1997, Tallix Art Foundry, in Beacon, New York, the company contracted by LDVHI to cast the horse, had suggested bringing Nina Akamu, an experienced animal sculptor, on board to improve upon the Dent-Herrick horse. After several months, Nina Akamu determined that the original model could not be salvaged and concluded that a completely new sculpture needed to be executed.
Leonardo had made numerous small sketches of horses to help illustrate his notes about the complex procedures for molding and casting the sculpture. But his notes were far from systematic, and none of the sketches points to the final position of the horse, with no single definitive drawing of the statue. Akamu researched multiple information sources to gain insight into the original sculptor's intentions. She studied both Leonardo's notes and drawings of the horse and those of other projects he was working on. She reviewed his thoughts on anatomy, painting, sculpture and natural phenomena. Her research expanded to include the teachers who had influenced Leonardo. Akamu also studied Iberian horse breeds, such as the Andalusian, which were favored by the Sforza stables in the late 15th century.
Two full-size casts were made of Akamu's 24-foot (7.3 m) design. One was placed at the Hippodrome de San Siro in Milan. The other is at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, a botanical garden and sculpture park in Grand Rapids, Michigan, paid for by billionaire Frederik Meijer.
A smaller replica – 12 feet (3.7 m) – has been placed in downtown Allentown's Community Art Park adjacent to the Baum School of Art, in honor of Charles Dent. A bronze replica – 8 feet (2.4 m) – was installed 15 September 2001 at Piazza della Libertà in Vinci, Italy, the birth town of Leonardo.
Another 24-foot-high recreation (7.3 m) of the Sforza horse, based on different design interpretation, was manufactured by the Opera Laboratori Fiorentini S.p.A., in collaboration with Polo Museale Fiorentino and the Institute and Museum of the History of Science in Florence, Italy. It is made of steel frame with special resin coated fibreglass, to make it look like bronze. It is made of six pieces and can be transported and re-assembled. It has been at display at various locations during exhibitions on Leonardo. Some of these are;
- "The Mind of Leonardo" at the Museum of Modern Art, Debrecen, Hungary. (16 August to 2 December 2007).
- "Leonardo: 500 Years into the Future" at the Tech Museum, San Jose, USA (27 September 2008 to 25 January 2009)
- "The Mind of Leonardo" at the Palazzo Venezia, Rome, Italy (1 May to 30 August 2009)
- "Leonardo da Vinci - Hand of the Genius" Sifly Piazza at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, (6 October 2009 to February 6, 2010).
- "The Mind of Leonardo". Brunelleschi.imss.fi.it. Retrieved 2013-07-23.
- "'Exhibition Featuring Work of Leonardo da Vinci to Open at High Museum in Atlanta, October 2009'". High Museum of Art. September 1, 2009.
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