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Figurative equestrian sculptures of Modernist Marino Marini


February 27, ON THIS DAY


Marino Marini, photo by Paolo Monti, 1963
Courtesy BEIC

Marino Marini transformed Italian sculpture art through his distorted visions only in a way a true modernist would; radically transforming something without a care for the past or the traditions it holds. Marini was one of the Western world’s most celebrated sculptors of the 20th century and had a great influence on the Italian modernist movement as the country was struggling with a rise in fascism. He was an integral part of the avant-garde movement and having spent some time in Paris in the 1920s, he was acquainted with Picasso and Braque. He received formal artistic training at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, where he would later go on to accept a professorship. He opened his personal studio in Florence in 1924. The ongoing struggle in the first half of the century to represent the rapidly transforming and war-stricken world in front of his eyes drove Marini to embrace unorthodox and bizarre forms of sculpture and art. Marino himself describes the change:

“Not so long ago a sculptor could still be content with a search for full, sensual, and vigorous forms. But in the past fifteen years [1943 – 1958], nearly all our new sculpture has tended to create forms that are disintegrating.”

His sculptures as well as his paintings challenged and tried to deconstruct strict anatomical figures and engaged in an interrogation of the absurd and the exaggerated. Marini is well known for deconstructing the idea of the female nude, breaking it down to absurdly fantastical proportions in his various bronze statues. Another key theme in Marini’s work is that of the Etruscanian figure, focusing on the horse and the rider as they unnervingly hold their place in his sculptures. Critics have noticed that Marino’s work bears an inherent contradiction; that is, it is both abstract as well as historicist. The base of Marini’s style takes inspiration from the classic Roman, Etruscan, and early Renaissance works, but he transforms the classical into something bizarre and extraordinary.

Rider (Arcangelo), 1959
Courtesy The Hague

A figure that Marino keeps revisiting in his career is the equestrian figure, typically representative of resplendent glory and heroism. Equestrian statues have been a staple of Ancient Rome, and are typically used to commemorate military leaders with great victories or stellar leadership. This motif returned to Europe during the Renaissance and dominated Italy through the sculptures of Donatello and Giambologna who constructed a few famous equestrian statues, such as that of Gattamelata and Cosimo I de’ Medici respectively. Marini himself notices the purpose served by these equestrian statues, saying that throughout the centuries they imbue an epic purpose, exalting triumphant heroes. According to him,

In the past fifty years, this ancient relation between man and beast has been entirely transformed. The horse has been replaced, in its economic and its military functions, by the machine, by the tractor, the automobile or the tank.”

Marino Marini, The Angel of the City,
Courtesy Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice

The horse as well as the rider becomes distorted in Marini’s works– the functional relationship between the leader who controls the horse and commands his populace no longer retains itself in the post-war era. Under the shadow of dictators like Benito Mussolini, the age-old figure of the heroic comes undone. Marino’s early equestrian works still retained some structure and had a sense of poise (though this was also charged with potent meaning). Marino’s most recognizable work L’angelo della città or the Angel of the City showcases this evolution. The neck of the horse becomes indistinct from its head, and directly within the line of sight is the phallus of the horse rider, who has his arms spread apart, looking at the sky. The two figures appear perpendicular to each other and the final product evokes an uneasy sense of despair. 

Miracolo, 1959/60. Equestrian sculpture by Marino Marini in front of the Neue Pinakothek in Munich, Courtesy Wiki commons

The riders and horses become more and more distorted and demented in Marino’s works as time progresses. This can be evidenced in his sculpture Miracolo, created in 1959-60. Both the horse and the ride have obtained exaggerated and elongated forms, they are slouched down in opposite directions, almost blending in with the ground and lacking distinctive heads. The rider lays prostrate on the back of the horse, in a pose that assumes senselessness. 

The artist best explains the agony that went into the creation of these sculptures:

My equestrian figures are symbols of the anguish that I feel when I survey contemporary events. Little by little, my horses become more restless; their riders less and less able to control them. Man and beast are both overcome by a catastrophe similar to those that struck Sodom and Pompeii. So I am trying to illustrate the last stages of the disintegration of a myth, I mean the myth of the individual victorious hero, the ‘uono di virtù’ of the humanists.

Marino Marini unhesitatingly takes several classical motifs and styles beloved by the Italians, the historic by-products of the Renaissance, and interprets them within his own modern and contemporary contexts.  As Marini mentions, it is impossible to go back to the past, the so-called “golden age”, and like every Modernist, he sought drastically different forms of representation, and all his artistic products were brittle and broken in ways, slowly disintegrating the structural integrity of the traditional forms.

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