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Horses in Art: A Dynamic Relationship between Humans and Animals

Few animals have marked mankind to the extent as the horse. Like the indelible ink on manuscripts that have stood the test of time, horses have helped us write the chronicles of our story on planet earth. Out of all the animals we have encountered along the way, it is the horse that has stayed with us at our best and worst times. They have helped us overcome the insurmountable obstacles we faced. Horses are much more than domestic pets – they are our partners, our transportation, our means of survival, and our companions. Some people have even considered them as their soul mates.

Let’s grab a seat in the saddle and take a journey through time to see this dynamic relationship unfold. As you will soon learn, humans have expressed their love and admiration for horses in many ways through art.

The Chronicles of the Horse – Wild Beast, Inseparable Partner

Paints at Wanchese by Jean Cook

Paints at Wanchese by Jean Cook

The history of horses in art began even before writing was invented! Evidence of human interest in horses can be found as early as the Ice Age in prehistoric cave paintings. Chauvet cave in France is one such remarkable example. The cave walls depict scenes of horse herds in the wild that were drawn with charcoal and natural pigments. Did you know that over one third of all the artwork found inside prehistoric caves features horses? That’s a lot of equine admiration!

Not long after the Ice Age, people began to tame wild horses and domesticate them in early Western civilizations. Horses in ancient times were an excellent resource for agriculture, transportation, and inspiration throughout art and literature. Many cultures associated horses with spirit, power, and freedom in their artworks. In Greek mythology, horse-like creatures such as centaurs, Pegasi, and unicorns were very popular. The immortal winged horse Pegasus was even minted along with the gods on Greek coin currency.

In the Middle Ages, unicorns symbolized purity and healing. These mythical creatures were commonly depicted on tapestries, statues and paintings in legendary and religious artistic themes. Unicorns were featured on Scotland’s Royal coat of arms. They later joined with England’s symbolic lions when the two countries united.

Horses Making History – Many Backgrounds, One Common Bond

Horses in art reflect them doing many different things around the world. In England, horses were entwined with the long-standing traditions of knighthood and fox hunting. In the late 1800’s United States, the famous artist Frederic Remington created sculptures, illustrations and paintings of realistic scenes of horses, cowboys and Native Americans on the Western Frontier. Remington’s famed illustrations appeared on the covers of Harper’s Weekly and other magazines. His works can be seen in art galleries today.

In many more cultures, horses were used as the weapon of choice for warfare throughout millennia. Roles such as these led horses to symbolize with courage, chivalry, discovery and social status in art history through countless mediums.

Some societies in the Middle East and Spain were known for their royal horse breeds reserved for kings. According to records, the native wild horses of the Outer Banks are descended from royal Spanish mustangs who survived shipwrecked cargo vessels centuries ago. To this day, these horses continue to inspire us and the artists, who have created artwork and written stories as tribute to them.

Horses throughout the ages have played many different roles in art, but they all contribute to one united purpose – working together as a team with humans. They are now featured in art galleries all around the world.

To see horses in art click Beth Parcell Evans, Jean Cook, Frans Beckers, Cathy Kuzma, and Frederic Remington.