Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Horse and Rider Startled by a Snake

early 16th century
Northern Italian, possibly Padua
.1419a (confirmed): 9 × 4 × 8 1/2 in. (22.9 × 10.2 × 21.6 cm)
.1419b (confirmed): 6 1/16 × 4 × 4 in. (15.4 × 10.2 × 10.2 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Irwin Untermyer, 1964
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 536
This is one of the finest small bronze horse-and-rider groups of the early Renaissance. A snake beneath the horse’s raised hooves is poised to strike, and horse and rider react in unison to this common foe. Both open their mouth in alarm. The sharply defined wrinkles on the horse’s neck and the taut facial muscles of the rider reveal their tension; even the angular bent of their limbs unites man and animal. The horse is neither saddled nor bridled (a protuberance in the mane suggests that the rider grasps the horse’s hair, although it also functions as a strut attachment). The man wears short, classical armor with breastplate straps over the tunic and scale-patterned leggings. He rides bareback in the manner of ancient cavalry; his raised hand may have held a whip that lashed at the snake.

Like Shouting Horseman, the famous bronze by Andrea Riccio in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, our group shows a nervous, startled mount and rider shouting. The similarity of subject and expression led scholars to attribute our bronze to Riccio.[1] But over time it has become clear that the Riccio bronze in London may well have influenced this one now in New York and that while both must have issued from northern Italy they were not modeled by the same hand. In fact, Riccio’s energetic chasing of the bronze surface is quite distinct from the smooth contours and refined details of the Museum’s example. Its precision of form led James Draper to wonder whether the Museum’s bronze was modeled on a wood carving, perhaps by Francesco di Giacomo da Sant’Agata, who was active in Padua between 1491 and 1528. His first training was in goldsmithing, but he is known to have carved in boxwood.[2] Subsequently, Draper has withdrawn this attribution, though he continues to believe that the sculptor of this horse and rider worked in northern Italy, perhaps in Padua, and, like Sant’Agata, was strongly influenced by Riccio’s example.[ 3] Undoubtedly, the work is intimately connected to an elite class of unique bronzes that includes the Frick Collection’s Naked Female Figure (Diana?), a Rape of Europa in the Szépmüvészeti Múzeum, Budapest, and a Hecate or Prudence in the Bode Museum, Berlin.[4]

No exact model has been identified for the composition. Draper has proposed that examples carved on ancient gems —  which are clearly the kind of source that appealed to the antiquarian scholars and artists active in and around the University of Padua —  inspired the bronze’s subject and form.[5] The sharply incised details of the rider’s face may owe their character to the great North Italian painter Andrea Mantegna; woodcuts after an equestrian in Andrea Mantegna’s Triumph of Caesar canvases at Hampton Court, near London, may have exerted some influence on this figure.[6] Without a literary source for this composition, the subject remains elusive. It may well be an imagined scene set in ancient times, combining an allusion to antiquity with a contemporary penchant for dramatic storytelling.

[Ian Wardropper. European Sculpture, 1400–1900, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2011, no. 11, pp. 42–43.]

[1] Leo Planiscig. "Per il quarto centenario della morte di Tullio Lombardo e di Andrea Riccio." Dedalo 12 (1932), pp. 901–24, p. 917.

[2] James David Draper. "Andrea Riccio and His Colleagues in the Untermeyer Collection." Apollo 107 (March 1978), pp. 170–80, pp. 178 – 79.

[3] James David Draper. Review of the exhibitions "Rinascimento e passione per l’antico: Andrea Riccio e il suo tempo," at the Castello del Buonconsiglio and Museo Diocesano Tridentino, Trent, and "Andrea Riccio: Renaissance Master of Bronze," at the Frick Collection, New York, and the accompanying publications (see Riccio 2008). Sculpture Journal 19, no. 1 (2010), pp. 129–33, pp. 130 – 31. Volker Krahn in Von allen Seiten schön: Bronzen der Renaissance und des Barock. Wilhelm von Bode zum 150. Geburstag. Exh. cat. edited by Volker Krahn. Altes Museum, Berlin; 1995–96. Berlin, 1995, p. 204, calls this bronze "Paduan, around 1500."

[4] For Naked Female Figure, see John Pope-Hennessy. The Frick Collection: An Illustrated Catalogue. Vol. 3, Sculpture: Italian. New York, 1970, pp. 98 – 105, and Art in the Frick Collection: Paintings, Sculpture, Decorative Arts. New York, 1996, p. 148; for Rape of Europa, see Krahn in Von allen Seiten schön 1995, pp. 208 – 9, no. 33, and Bronzetti veneziani: Die Venezianischen Kleinbronzen der Renaissance aus dem Bode-Museum Berlin. Exh. cat. by Volker Krahn. Georg-Kolbe-Museum, Berlin; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; Ca’ d’Oro, Venice; 2003. Berlin and Cologne, 2003, ill. p. 128; for Hecate or Prudence, see Krahn in Von allen Seiten schön 1995, pp. 206 – 7, no. 32, and Krahn in Bronzetti veneziani 2003, pp. 128 – 31, no. 31.

[5] Draper 1978, pp. 178 – 79. See also Olga Raggio in Profil du Metropolitan Museum of Art de New York: De Ramsès à Picasso. Exh. cat. Galerie des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux; 1981. Bordeaux, 1981, pp. 108 – 9.

[6] Raggio in Profil du Metropolitan Museum 1981, pp. 108 – 9.
Count Donà dalle Rose , Venice (before 1931) ; John Simon , New York ; Irwin Untermyer (until 1964; to MMA)
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