Illustrated companion

Marino Marini made his first sculpture on the theme of the horseman in 1936-7 but his treatment of the subject changed after the Second World War and took on a new significance. According to the art historian J.T. Soby 'His full realisation of the theme began after he had seen the Lombard peasants fleeing the bombing on their frightened horses'. The artist himself, in a letter to the Tate Gallery in 1953 wrote: 'The sculpture is the result of a sad period which Italy passed through during the war. The work is enclosed in geometrical lines and is very precise in its tragic and human significance'. His mention of geometrical lines is interesting since it calls to mind the phrase 'the geometry of fear' coined by the critic Herbert Read in 1952, and widely used ever since to describe a distinctive phenomenon in British and European art in the aftermath of the Second World War. This was the appearance of a kind of sculpture which was basically figurative but which employed a greater or lesser degree of distortion, and jagged hard-edged forms, to express anxiety, fear and other themes related to the post-war climate. Despite its angular expressiveness Marini's 'Horseman' has a timeless, archaic quality and with its naked, bareback figure evokes the same symbolic relationship of man to the natural world that is found in the horse and rider in, for example, Gauguin's 'Faa Iheihe' [Tate Gallery N03470]. It also suggests an assertion of the forces of life in the face of death, since the out-thrust head and neck of the horse can be seen as distinctly phallic. This interpretation is supported by another, related, version of the horseman theme by Marmi, in the Guggenheim collection, in Venice. in which the rider is given a prominent erect phallus. Marini drew inspiration from Etruscan and archaic Greek art and his sources for this work also appear to include Chinese T'ang horses. An important part of the effect of Marini's bronze sculptures comes from their beautifully and expressively textured and coloured surfaces, all created by the artist working with chisels and chemical agents directly on the metal after the casting of the bronze.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.155