Equestrian Sculpture of Marcus Aurelius


SPEAKER 1: We’re in
the Capitoline Museums in Rome, looking at the
equestrian sculpture of the emperor Marcus Aurelius. We’re not exactly
sure of the date, but it’s sometime
around 176 or 180 CE. SPEAKER 2: It’s in a new
space, because it was suffering some conservation
problems and so had to be removed from
the Campidoglio, where Michelangelo had put it. SPEAKER 1: And actually,
that’s an important point, because we don’t know where
it originally was in Rome. SPEAKER 2: No. What’s really important is that
this is the only equestrian sculpture of this size to
survive from antiquity. SPEAKER 1: And we know that
there had been dozens of them in Rome. SPEAKER 2: They were
created to celebrate the triumphal return
of an emperor. SPEAKER 1: There’s
so much authority as a result of him on
horseback, clearly ruling. His left arm is lightly
holding the reins– or would have been lightly
holding the reins of the horse. The right hand protrudes out. SPEAKER 2: Addressing
the troops, or addressing the
citizens of Rome. SPEAKER 1: There’s a sense
of confidence in his posture and, of course, in the scale. SPEAKER 2: It is enormous. This survived because
it was thought to have represented
Constantine, the emperor who made Christianity legal
in the Roman Empire. And so this wasn’t melted
down for its bronze the way that almost all other
equestrian sculptures were. SPEAKER 1: This could
have ended up as a cannon. That’s right. SPEAKER 2: So we’re
lucky it survived. And it had an enormous
influence in the Renaissance for artists, beginning with
Donatello and Leonardo da Vinci. And of course, also the
ability to cast something this size in bronze
had also been lost. SPEAKER 1: And it just shows how
accomplished the ancient Romans were, both in their
handling of the material, but also in the representation,
the real understanding of the body, of its musculature. SPEAKER 2: And of the anatomy
of the horse, striding forward. It’s so animated and lifelike. SPEAKER 1: The folds of the neck
as his head pushes downward. SPEAKER 2: And the folds of the
drapery that Marcus Aurelius is wearing, how it comes down
and drapes over his leg and the back of the horse. SPEAKER 1: There’s also
something really wonderfully momentary and also,
at the same time, I think, very timeless here. The horse is striding,
his arm is raised, but there’s a wonderful
sense of balance. The horse is in motion. He’s pulling to the right. SPEAKER 2: He had in
his left hand the reins, so there’s a tension in
that he sort of seems to be pulling back. And the horse pulls its
head back a little bit. At the same time, the
right side of his body seems to be moving forward. SPEAKER 1: And
leaning to the right. SPEAKER 2: There’s a kind
of animation throughout. SPEAKER 1: There’s
also this unity between this incredibly powerful
animal and Marcus Aurelius. He’s in full control
of the horse. And I think that
that’s the point. SPEAKER 2: And even
kind of moving forward while pulling the
horse back slightly. SPEAKER 1: With his body. SPEAKER 2: Like he’s
holding it back. SPEAKER 1: And you’re right, his
left hand is holding the reins, but it’s a light
touch even though he’s in command of this
incredibly powerful animal. SPEAKER 2: Is it me or
does he seem a little too big for the horse? Do you know if this
was cast in one piece? SPEAKER 1: It would have been
cast in individual pieces. And then it would
have been assembled. And then the bronze
would have been worked so as to erase the seams. SPEAKER 2: And so this
commemorating of a great man and his great deeds
was an important idea in the Renaissance with
the flowering of humanism, this recognition of the
achievement of an individual, the representation of that
individual in a portrait. These were things that had
been lost in the Middle Ages. SPEAKER 1: This interest
in representation, both of his authority, of
his position in society, but also the ability to
render the body, and then the interest in rendering. All of those things come
together in the Renaissance again, having originally
come together, of course, in the classical world.

8 comments

  • TechTube

    Beautiful Sculpture, writing a scholarly paper on it now. Does anyone else agree that the figure represented appears to be very large for his horse like mentioned in the video?

    Reply
  • hunrb27

    Awesome statue of an awesome man.

    Reply
  • DanneSandin

    I think the reason for Marcus Aurelius appearing to be too big for the horse is because horses used to be a lot smaller than they are today. The size of modern day horses is because of selective breeding, with the goal of getting bigger and stronger horses.

    Reply
  • Pablo Cid

    The statue was originally located at St. Giovanni in Laterano.

    Reply
  • Simon Sozzi

    How did they assemble the individual cast pieces without blow torches?

    Reply
  • OdiProfanumVulgus

    The person who thought this was Constantine and thus unknowingly prevented it from being melted down deserves an applause.

    Reply
  • Supreme Reader

    Sargon of Akkad at 2:36 😄

    Reply
  • clarence spencer

    The misidentification of this sculpture as representing Constantine–the first Christine emperor–thus saving it from certain destruction/melting down, was by Pope Gelasius I (who also was the first pope to be referred to as the “vicar of Christ"). He probably did that intentionally, to encourage religiosity and icons that the image-deriven believers in the city could relate to.

    Reply

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