Marino Marini was one of the outstanding Italian sculptors of the twentieth century. This unique bronze horseman was cast in a foundry from a plaster model which Marini completed in 1936. It was made using the lost wax method and the horse and rider were cast separately. Completed in the year of Mussolini's alliance with Hitler, it was the first in a long series of equestrian sculptures which preoccupied the artist for many years. He said he created his horsemen in order to symbolise "the last phase of the decomposition of a myth – that of the heroic and victorious man, of the 'uomo di virtu' of the humanists." Reacting against the self-aggrandizing tendencies of official Fascist art under Mussolini, Marini took a traditional Italian symbol of male power, the equestrian monument, used since Roman times to commemorate historic military conquests and famous generals and emperors, and used it to express the opposite.
Marini's unnamed bareback rider is balanced precariously on his horse to suggest the disquiet of his time. The horse and his young rider have lost their separate identity. Both seem slightly smaller than life-size, the horse is alert but motionless, the rider tensed back as if about to be unseated. Simplified, wide-eyed and round-headed, the rider is stylized and resembles a neo-Etruscan funerary figure. Marini's thought-provoking combination of archaism and realism is both beautiful and unsettling. His dreamlike horseman seems frozen in the moment like one of the sad victims preserved in the lava that buried Pompeii. If you compare this sculpture with the pair of bronze horseman flanking the Gallery's façade it becomes clear that Marini has created a modern anti-hero whose vulnerability is very different to the traditional image of the all-powerful military hero on horseback.
bronze, unique cast
203.0 x 94.0 x 165.0 cm
Signature & date
Signed and dated on base left edge, incised "MARINO/ 1936. Signed on base left edge, incised "MM".
Not on display
© Marino Marini/SIAE. Licensed by Copyright Agency
Shown in 5 exhibitions
Marino Marini, Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich, 23 Jan 1962–25 Feb 1962
Mostra di Marino Marini, Palazzo Venezia, Rome, 10 Mar 1966–10 Jun 1966
Unknown, Western Contemporary Art Museum 1978, Exhibition Venue Unknown, 1978–1978
Three years on: acquisitions 1978-81, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 15 Oct 1981–01 Dec 1981
Archie Plus, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 26 Sep 2020–07 Mar 2021
Referenced in 11 publications
René Free, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'European', pg. 36-56, Sydney, 1988, 56.
Renée Free, AGNSW Collections, 'The Western Heritage, Renaissance to Twentieth Century', pg. 108-172, Sydney, 1994, 170 (colour illus.).
Renée Free, Three years on: a selection of acquisitions 1978-1981, 'European Art', pg. 27-36, Sydney, 1981, 3 (illus.). cat.no. 3
Renee Free, Art and Australia, 'European Acquisitions: 1972-83', pg. 63-67, Sydney, Spring 1984, 67, 74, 76 (illus.).
A.M. Hammacher, Marino Marini, sculpture, painting, drawing, London, 1971, 14. cat.no. 53
Maureen Ireland, Look, 'Looking at sculpture: Marini's Equestrian Obsession', pg. 16, Heidelberg, Aug 1986, 16 (illus.).
Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Western Collection: Paintings and Sculpture', pg. 17-77, Sydney, 1999, 60 (colour illus.).
the National and State Galleries', Art and Australia (Vol. 17, No. 1), 'Some Recent Acquisitions, pg. 103, Sydney, Sep 1979, 103.
Palazzo Venezia, Mostra di Marino Marini, Rome, 1966.
Carlo Pirovano, Marino Marini, scultore, Milan, 1973?, (illus.). cat.no. 74.
Sir Herbert Read, Patrick Waldberg and G. Di San Lazzaro, Complete works of Marino Marini, New York, 1970. cat.no. 64