Walking Horse with Hogged Mane and Saddlecloth Bearing the Vinta Coat of Arms

The coat of arms engraved on this horse’s saddle has recently been identified as belonging to Belisario Vinta, a member of the Medici court in Florence, who organized the commission of many sculptures by Giambologna. This highly detailed statuette—complete with delicate veins, folds of skin, and tiny tufts of hair—may have been ordered by Vinta for himself or given to him by the artist. Antonio Susini, one of Giambologna’s principal assistants, was probably responsible for modeling, casting, and finishing the bronze.

This small bronze of a horse in graceful motion is full of fine detail. We can see tufts of hair lining the horse’s hooves, veins crisscrossing its powerful haunches, and even the tongue and teeth in its mouth. Carefully groomed, the horse has a “hogged” mane, curled at either end, and a tail capped by a braided ornament. The fringed fabric saddle, inscribed with a coat of arms, suggests that this magnificent creature once belonged to a distinguished owner.

The owner’s identity was discovered only recently and holds the key to the sculpture’s origins. Belisario Vinta was the secretary of Cosimo II de’ Medici, ruler of Florence. In 1610, Cosimo was attempting to negotiate a marriage between his sister Caterina and Prince Henry, heir to the English throne. As a diplomatic gift, Vinta organized the commission of a set of precious bronzes from the workshop of Florence’s leading sculptor, Giambologna. Henry was so pleased with the gift that he reportedly kissed the bronzes and personally arranged them in his study. Profiting from this success, Vinta ordered a bronze horse for himself and had it inscribed with his coat of arms. Unfortunately, the marriage negotiations proved futile, as Henry died of pneumonia shortly afterwards.

Giambologna was among the most influential artists of the Italian Renaissance, a period of renewed interest in Greco-Roman art and culture during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The horse was second only to the human figure as a popular subject in the art of classical antiquity, and Giambologna dreamed of casting a life-sized horse in bronze. In 1587, when the artist was at the height of his international fame, Ferdinando I commissioned him to make an equestrian monument commemorating his late father, the Grand Duke Cosimo I. This colossal sculpture, which still stands in Florence’s Piazza della Signoria, was so impressive that Giambologna’s workshop was flooded with commissions from aristocrats across Europe for versions of the horse in miniature. One of the master’s most talented pupils, Antonio Susini, was largely responsible for modeling, casting, and finishing these small, freestanding pieces—even after Giambologna’s death.

Giovanni Bologna, called Giambologna

Italian, 1529–1608

Antonio Susini, (Italian, active c. 1572–1624)

Walking Horse with Hogged Mane and Saddlecloth Bearing the Vinta Coat of Arms

c. 1610

Bronze

10 13/16 x 3 1/2 x 9 7/8 in. (27.5 x 8.9 x 25.1 cm)


Acquired by Sterling Clark, 1913

1955.1004


ON VIEW