Horse and Rider (Leonardo da Vinci)

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Beeswax maquette of a horse and rider attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.

Horse and Rider is a beeswax sculpture depicting a rider on a horse, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci c. 1508–1511. It was intended to be used as a model for a life-size sculpture, commissioned by Charles II d'Amboise, French Governor of Milan from 1503–1511. Charles II d'Amboise died in 1511, Leonardo died in 1519 and the monument to d'Amboise was never completed nor cast in bronze.


The approximately 10 inches (25 cm) high, 9 inches (23 cm) long, and 3.5 inches (9 cm) wide[1] beeswax sculpture is believed to be a maquette for a full size bronze sculpture. According to professor Ernesto Solari, curator of a 2016 exhibition of the sculpture, it is innovative, far removed from the classical models the young Leonardo had been familiar with during his time with Andrea del Verrocchio; particularly when Verrocchio was working on the Equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni. On the horse's chest is an embedded print of a right thumb, believed to be Leonardo's.[2] Historian Franco Cardini (it; fr; de; es) hypothesizes that "this is a funeral monument. There are several clues that lead to this interpretation; the horse is portrayed disarranging the rider to indicate that the animal is frightened. It is going down to the underworld, while the knight Charles d’Amboise, on the other hand is portrayed in a serene mood and eyes closed, the hand on his heart; the Governor of Milan is parting from his loved ones. Finally, one can notice the thigh protector in the shape of a shell, a symbol of travel, in this case without return."[3]


In 1506 Charles II d'Amboise summoned Leonardo to return to Milan from Florence.[citation needed] D'Amboise commissioned Leonardo to design the gardens for his suburban villa.[4] At this time Leonardo began to develop the concept of an equestrian portrait of his patron, Charles d'Amboise.[citation needed]

Leonardo is known to have used wax models to study the compositions of his paintings, as noted by Benvenuto Cellini in reference to the paintings in Milan and Florence.[5][6]

Upon Leonardo's death in 1519 his unfinished works, drawings and notebooks were inherited by Francesco Melzi, Leonardo's friend and protégé. The documents of the Melzi d'Eril family, who own Francesco's still existing Villa Melzi in Vaprio d'Adda, don't however have a record of this wax sculpture.[7]

At the turn of the twentieth century, the beeswax sculpture was recorded to have been in the Melzi di Cusano family collections in Milan, and later in Giorgio Sangiorgi's (1886–1960) collection in Rome.[8][9] An unnamed art collector moved the sculpture from Italy in the early 1920s,[8] and by 1938 it was in Switzerland.[10]

Italian art historian Carlo Pedretti discovered the existence of the wax model in the late 1970s, and took black and white photos of it. When compiling a 1987 catalogue raisonné of Leonardo's drawings stored in the Royal Collection in Windsor Castle, Pedretti added some of his photos for comparison.[11]

The 1985 mold made directly of Leonardo's original beeswax model showing the "pulled" red wax.

David Nickerson, director of the Mallett at Bourdon House in London, acquired the wax model in 1985.[12] Over the centuries the model had sustained damage, including the loss of one of the horse's legs, along with the rider's feet and hands. It was presented to a group of American businessmen in 1985.[13] As it was continuing to degrade, they had a latex mold made to preserve its condition. Their intention was to market a limited edition of bronze castings, which didn't happen until 25 years later.[14][15]

The beeswax sculpture was displayed around the world in the 1990s as part of a travelling exhibition named "Leonardo da Vinci: Scientist, Inventor, Artist" in Sweden in Stockholm, Malmö and Göteborg in 1995,[8][16] Vienna in 1996,[17] and in Boston and Singapore in 1997. Due to its fragility, it now remains in a temperature-controlled private collection in London.[15][18]


The sculpture was attributed to Leonardo da Vinci by art historian Carlo Pedretti in 1985,[19][20] mainly due to a note Leonardo had written for himself in another work. On a c.1503-1504 worksheet from the Codex Windsor set of Leonardo's drawings are sketches of horses, believed to be part of a study for the painting of The Battle of Anghiari. In the middle of the sheet is a note to "make one of wax about finger long",[21][22] and the bucking posture of one of the horses is similar to the sculpture.[16] Leonardo may indeed have used wax models to prepare for Anghiari.[23] Art historian Patricia Trutty-Coohill also noticed a resemblance between the rider and Charles II d'Amboise from Andrea Solari's painting from c.1507. Charles was one of Leonardo's patrons, and the subject matter would suit what's known of him.[8] The beeswax statuette, including black and white photographs, was first published as a work by Leonardo in 1987 in "The drawings and miscellaneous papers of Leonardo da Vinci in the collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle". The book was part of a series that Pedretti had taken over from Kenneth Clark, cataloging Leonardo's drawings stored in the Royal Collection in Windsor Castle.[11]

As with many artworks attributed to Leonardo, not all art scholars agree with Pedretti's attribution.[24][25][26][12] When exhibited at the Boston Museum of Science in 1997, the museum agreed to change the credit on the label of the sculpture from "by Leonardo" to "attributed to Leonardo", but art historian Jack Wasserman still insisted that nothing has survived to support the attribution.[27] Art historians Pietro Marani and Franco Cardini, and art critic Vittorio Sgarbi, likewise doubted the sculpture's provenance when the bronze cast was exhibited in Milan in 2016, commenting that there still isn't adequate hard evidence to support the attribution of the work to Leonardo.[28][29][3] Following his studies of medieval cavalry, Cardini also criticised the historical accuracy of the sculpture.[29]

Bronze sculpture[edit]

2012 bronze casting of Leonardo da Vinci's Horse and Rider

In 1987 art collector Richard A. Lewis acquired the 1985 latex mold.[15] Beginning in 2012, Lewis and a team of experts "pulled" a wax from the latex mold and, using the lost wax process, cast the Horse and Rider sculpture in bronze.[30][13][31]

Bronze castings were sold with a certificate of authenticity stating each to be one of 996 castings, which were available in three different applied patinas and in silver.[15][32][30][33] They were at sale for $25,000–35,000 each.[15][34] The plan to cast up to 1000 statues however never reached fruition.[citation needed] Some of the replicas have since been for sale with the option of joint ownership to the 2012 bronze cast.[35]

The 2012 bronze casting was unveiled to the public in August 2012 at Grey Stone Mansion in Beverly Hills, California. It has been exhibited in Las Vegas,[36] Dallas,[37] San Diego,[38] and in 2016 in Milan.[39] In 2015 the mold made of Leonardo's beeswax model, together with the 2012 bronze casting, were acquired by another private collector.[40] Since then, further bronze castings have been exhibited in New York,[30] London,[30]Miami,[1] and Oregon.[10]


  1. ^ a b "Sculpture Made From Leonardo da Vinci Wax Model on Display at Design Fair in Dania Beach". NBC Miami. 14 June 2013. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  2. ^ Solari, Ernesto (2016). Leonardo da Vinci Horse and Rider (1st ed.). Italy: Colibri. p. 92. ISBN 978-88-97206-33-0.[verification needed]
  3. ^ a b Bravi, Marta (21 October 2016). "L'uomo a cavallo di Leonardo da Las Vegas a corso Magenta". Il Giornale (in Italian). Retrieved 1 March 2017. Secondo lo storico Franco Cardini si tratterebbe di un monumento funebre. Diversi gli indizi che portano a questa interpretazione: il cavallo viene ritratto mentre fa una «groupade», ovvero sta disarcionando il cavaliere a indicare che l'animale è spaventato: sta scendendo verso gli inferi. Non così il cavaliere, Charles d'Amboise, che viene ritratto con l'aria serena e gli occhi chiusi, la mano sul cuore: il governatore di Milano si sta accomiatando da suoi cari. Infine si può notare il cosciale a forma di conchiglia: simbolo del viaggio, in questo caso senza ritorno.
  4. ^ Farago, Claire J. (1999). An Overview of Leonardo's Career and Projects Until C.1500. Leonardo da Vinci - Selected Scholarship. Taylor & Francis. p. 380. ISBN 9780815329343.
  5. ^ Solari 2016, p. 31.
  6. ^ Sturman, Shelley; May, Katherine; Luchs, Alison (2017). "The Budapest Horse: Beyond the Leonardo da Vinci Question". In Helmstutler Di Dio, Kelley. Making and Moving Sculpture in Early Modern Italy. Routledge. p. 27. ISBN 9781351559515.
  7. ^ Moffatt, Constance J. (1990). "Duca di Bari". The ALV Journal. Giunti. 3: 127 & Fig 7 caption.
  8. ^ a b c d "Press release for the Göteburg exhibition: Fragmentary wax model for an equestrian portrait of Charles d'Amboise". The ALV Journal. Giunti. 8: 243–244. 1995.
  9. ^ "Collezione de Vetri Antichi dalle Origini al V Sec. D.C., ordinati e descritti da Giorgio Sangiorgi con prefazione di W. Froehner (1914)". Original Catalogue of the Giorgio Sangiorgi Collection, sold at CHRISTIES auction. 3 June 1999.[verification needed]
  10. ^ a b Cullivan, Rob (2 October 2015). "Masters of the art world on exhibit at Troutdale studio". The Outlook. Pamplin Media Group. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  11. ^ a b "Leonardo da Vinci". In "The collection of HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN". Windsor Castle. 1987. p. 185.[verification needed]
  12. ^ a b Panza, Pierluigi (9 January 2017). "Fogli, quadri e scultura Sulle attribuzioni controversie infinite". Corriere della Sera (in Italian). Retrieved 10 April 2017. La produzione di Leonardo da Vinci non ha mai cessato di generare controversie sulle attribuzioni. Contestata è la cosiddetta copia in bronzo della scultura equestre [...] Nacque così la copia esposta a Milano, sulla quale non mancano pareri divergenti, specie sull’attribuzione di Pedretti.
  13. ^ a b Lewis, Richard A. "Provenance". Leonardo Da Vinci Equestrian LLC. Archived from the original on 12 February 2015.
  14. ^ "Leonardo da Vinci Horse and Rider Media Kit" (Press release). Art encounter. 3 December 2012. Retrieved 28 January 2018.
  15. ^ a b c d e "Leonardo da Vinci's Horse & Rider Sculpture - Revealed for the First Time in LA". Splash Magazine. 29 August 2012. Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  16. ^ a b Pedretti, Carlo (1996). "Mural Perspective as Cinemascope: Story-board to Production". The ALV Journal. Giunti. 9: 94, 141.
  17. ^ "Leonardo @ the Museum". Leonardo da Vinci: Scientist, Inventor, Artist. Boston Museum of Science. 1997. Archived from the original on 23 June 2012.
  18. ^ Panza, Pierluigi (19 October 2016). "La scultura equestre di Leonardo Esposizione tra genio e mistero". Corriere della Sera (in Italian). Retrieved 1 March 2017.
  19. ^ Pedretti, Carlo (10 July 1985). "Wax model of Horse and Rider" (Letter). Letter to Mr. Paul J. Wagner. Archived from the original on 8 October 2014.
  20. ^ Solari 2016, p. 28.
  21. ^ Müller-Walde, Paul (1897). "Beiträge zur Kenntnis des Leonardo da Vinci: Ein neues Dokument zur Geschichte des Reiterdenkmals für Francesco Sforza. Das erste modell Leonardo's". Jahrbuch der Königlich Preussischen Kunstsammlungen (in German). Berlin: Berlin State Museums (18): 133, 169 – via Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.
  22. ^ "Folio RL 12328". Royal Collection Trust. Inventory no. 912328. c.1503-1504
  23. ^ Clark, Kenneth; Pedretti, Carlo (1968). "Catalogue of the drawings: 12328". The drawings of Leonardo da Vinci in the collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle. 1 (2 ed.). London: Phaidon. p. 28.
  24. ^ Zerner, Henri (25 September 1997). "The Vision of Leonardo". The New York Review of Books. 44 (14): 67. no existing sculpture can be attributed to him with any certainty. [... the Bust of Christ as a Youth] was unfortunately placed in the exhibition next to a bizarre object, a wax statuette of a rider on a bucking horse never before seen in public. In the explanatory label, the statuette was said to have belonged to Francesco Melzi, a student and companion of Leonardo, a provenance unfortunately based on hearsay. [...] I fail to see the point of presenting to the uninformed visitor highly debatable hypotheses as if they were confirmed.
  25. ^ Holmstrom, David (24 March 1997). "Putting Leonardo's Inventions to the test: Boston's Museum of Science looks at the breathtaking scope of Leonardo da Vinci's work, though the authenticity of some objects is in question". The Christian Science Monitor. CONTROVERSIAL WORK: Whether Leonardo made this small wax figure is a source of contention among experts. Although the piece is unsigned, it is attributed to him in the exhibit. (subscription required)
  26. ^ ANSA (22 November 2016). "'Leonardo' horse divides experts". Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata. Retrieved 22 February 2017. not all experts agree on the original's provenance. Other museums were offered the chance to show the sculpture depicting French governor of Milan Charles d'Amboise, but they refused, not wanting to take responsibility for confirming its attribution.
  27. ^ Yemma, John (23 February 1997). "Leonardo on tour: the good, the bad ... and the phony? Art historians question attribution of some works headed for Boston show". The Boston Globe. p. A.1. at least one of the two sculptures on display in the art gallery at Science Park beginning March 3 have caused grave doubts among some art historians. [...] The labels on the paintings, Ackerman warned museum officials, were simply too generous, linking dubious and contested works from private collections too closely with Leonardo and other Italian masters. [...] after weeks of struggling over wording, museum officials altered some of the labels to introduce more skepticism [... The Wax Horse] is "attributed to Leonardo." Not so fast, said Jack Wasserman, an art historian at Temple University in Philadelphia. "There is no single work of sculpture which Leonardo worked on that survived to today," Wasserman said. "Yes, it could be 'attributed to' Leonardo, but you need to have a compelling reason for doing so. Since nothing survived, there is no way to judge a piece of sculpture like this." (subscription required)
  28. ^ Gatti, Chiara (19 October 2016). "Arriva l'uomo a cavallo di Leonardo Da Vinci che divide i critici". la Repubblica (in Italian). Retrieved 22 February 2017. Presentata come una rivelazione esclusiva, è contestata da molti esperti. [...] Vittorio Sgarbi non nasconde i suoi dubbi sull'attribuzione al maestro toscano [...] Pietro Marani: Non ci sono evidenze, né si possono fare confronti poiché non esistono dati d'appoggio, esemplari sicuri.
  29. ^ a b Perugini, Ugo (25 October 2016). "C'è la mano di Leonardo nel monumento a Charles d'Amboise?". (in Italian). Retrieved 7 June 2018. Ma "Horse and Rider" è davvero opera di Leonardo? Molto meno convinti sembrano i critici più accreditati. Stiamo parlando, ad esempio, di Vittorio Sgarbi e di Pietro Marani che si sono mostrati assai cauti nel giudizio. Anche lo storico Franco Cardini, presente all'incontro con Solari, ha espresso alcuni dubbi, non tanto per l'aspetto artistico quanto per quello storico, essendo esperto di cavalleria medioevale. [...] La verità, come dice ancora Cardini, sull'attribuzione di quest'opera non verremo mai a saperla con certezza.
  30. ^ a b c d Pfeiffer, Eric (29 August 2012). "Metal casting from Leonardo da Vinci's 500-year-old 'Horse and Rider' sculpture unveiled". Yahoo! News. Retrieved 9 February 2017.
  31. ^ Lewis, Richard A. "The Casting and Authentication". Leonardo Da Vinci Equestrian LLC. Archived from the original on 13 February 2015.
  32. ^ Dambrot, Shana Nys (31 August 2012). "Is There Such a Thing as a New (and Real) da Vinci?". LA Weekly. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  33. ^ Lewis, Richard A. (27 May 2014). "Leonardo da Vinci "Horse and Rider" Certificate of Authenticity". Leonardo da Vinci Equestrian, LLC. Archived from the original on 3 March 2017.
  34. ^ Domanick, Andrea (22 August 2012). "Photos: Rare Leonardo da Vinci sculpture revealed at the Venetian". Las Vegas Sun. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  35. ^ Leach, Robin (13 June 2016). "Strip Scribbles: Bobby Flay, Leonardo Da Vinci, WSOP, Restaurant Week, EDC". Las Vegas Sun. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  36. ^ Frank, Priscilla (14 August 2012). ""Horse and Rider," Discovered Leonardo Da Vinci Sculpture, To Be Unveiled In Los Angeles". Huffington Post. Retrieved 4 February 2014.
  37. ^ Maddison, Jacqueline (17 December 2012). "DaVinci Luxury Fine Art Collection Piece". Beverly Hills Magazine. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  38. ^ Houck, Kristina (30 June 2013). "Located in Rancho Santa Fe Plaza, Renaissance Galleries features work of top artists". Rancho Santa Fe Review. Retrieved 30 June 2017.
  39. ^ Kellogg, Amy (19 December 2016). "Rare horse and rider statue based on da Vinci model goes on show". FOX News. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  40. ^ "Magnum Opus Equus, CEO, J.W.Petty announces the acquisition of the only sculpture known to exist from the hand of Leonardo da Vinci". Horse & Rider 1508 - 2015 (Press release). Art encounter. 16 September 2015. Retrieved 9 February 2017.