Statuette of a Horse, 750–700 BC
2 7/8 × 3 1/4 × 1 3/8 inches (7.3 × 8.3 × 3.5 cm.)
Gift of Miss Annette Finnigan
Habits of Mind
- OBSERVE DETAILS Observe details / time to think and reflect
Statuette of a Horse
Discussion through works of art encourage how to approach ambiguous and complex ideas, thoughts, and feelings. The MFAH offers a democratic space where students and teachers can develop, practice and articulate these habits of mind. Remember that the quality of the conversation is what is important, not finding the artist’s “answer.” Slow down and take the time to make careful observations. Talk about what you notice, and try to avoid jumping to conclusions and interpretations. Be sure to give enough time for silent looking and thinking.
Connecting to the Work of Art
Ancient Greek metalworkers were skilled in the forging and casting of a variety of metals, especially gold, silver, and bronze. It is believed that they learned stone and metal sculpting techniques from the Egyptians. The Greeks made many different types of bronze objects, including jewelry, mirrors, lamps, vessels, coins, arms and armor, and statuettes, working primarily in workshops, where masters and fathers taught apprentices and sons. Based on writings from the period, it appears that sculptors shared the same status level as other manual workers, and did not usually sign their work individually.
With its cylindrical legs and head, lack of detail, and static quality, this small statuette of a horse is typical in style of depictions of animals dating from the Geometric Period (900–700 B.C.). The wide space between the front and hind legs, and the slight bend of the knees suggest the unsure stance of a young colt. Small sculptures such as this one served as votive offerings for pilgrims visiting temples and sanctuaries. Large numbers of these sculptures have been excavated at temple sites, together with many failed castings, indicating that at least some of the bronze figures were created at workshops very close to the temples. It is believed that the use of these small statuettes preceded that of larger life-size statues, for which the miniature versions may also have served as less expensive alternatives.
Similar in style to images on pottery of the time, this abstract style falls within the Geometric Period (900–700 B.C.), the earliest period of Greek art. Most statuettes from this time were in the form of birds, animals, and humans, including groupings of horses, cows, and deer with their young. Utilizing rough, geometric shapes, statuettes from this period were given the minimum detail necessary to portray the figure. For example, as illustrated by this sculpture, horses were typically depicted with a long cylindrical snout, triangular ears, and arched mane at the top of the head.
Freestanding bronze statuettes such as this one were created using the lost wax method of casting, which begins with the carving of a model from a block of wax. The wax model is then encased in a thick clay mold. After the mold dries, it is heated, causing the wax to melt and drain out. Melted metal is then poured into the cavity. After the metal cools, the clay mold is removed, leaving a metal object in the shape of the original wax. Often, as in this object, a base was cast with the figurine. Many bronzes created from the same mold have been found in excavations, indicating that replication was an established process, and that the small statuettes used for votive offerings were often mass-produced.
The formative period of Greek civilization spans about 400 years, from 1100 to 700 B.C. During the 8th century B.C. there existed a significant number of sanctuaries, and many horse figurines have been found in their ruins. Mules, oxen, and donkeys were used for pulling and carting during this period, so owning a horse was a conspicuous sign of status and power. In offering an image of a horse to the gods, the worshipper would be asserting his claim that he was deserving of such a measure of prosperity. Archeological excavations have revealed that by 700 B.C., horse figurines had completely disappeared from the sanctuaries of Greece.
- Look closely at this object’s surface and material. What is it made of? How old do you think it is?
- Look at the way it was constructed, including the inclusion of the base and attachment of the horse to the base. How was it meant to be handled, what was its function?
- What kinds of shapes and lines do you see? If you had to sum up the style of this figure in one word, what word would you use?
- Compare this horse figure to other images of horses: paintings, sculptures, photographs, or just your idea of what a horse looks like. How is this one different?
- Do you think that the creator of this object was trying to make a realistic representation of a horse? Why would they want to make an unrealistic representation of one?
- Think about the kind of horse this figure may represent. Is it young or old? A workhorse? A show horse? What parts of the image make you think so?
- Pretend you are an archaeologist and you unearthed this horse. What does this figure say about the people who made and used it? Does knowing that hundreds of horse figures has been found change your answer?
• It is believed that horse votives were used at sanctuaries in ancient Greece because the horse was a symbol of the wealth and prosperity desired by the worshipper. Why was the horse a symbol of prosperity? How might the Greeks have used horses? Using clay, sculpt a small figurine that would describe something that is very important to you.
• Find the various geometric shapes created by the positive space (the sculpture itself) and the negative space (the space around the sculpture) of this horse and its base. Now cover the base of this figure. How do the shapes of the negative and positive spaces change?
• Made of bronze, this figure now has distinct characteristics—a greenish color, pocked texture, a dull finish. Research the characteristics of bronze and determine what this horse might have looked like when it was first made. How does it look different today? Why?
Resources Available to Order
The Learning Through Art program is endowed by Melvyn and Cyvia Wolff.
The Learning Through Art curriculum website is made possible in part by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
All Learning and Interpretation programs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, receive endowment income from funds provided by the Louise Jarrett Moran Bequest; Caroline Wiess Law; the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; The National Endowment for the Humanities; the Fondren Foundation; BMC Software, Inc.; the Wallace Foundation; the Neal Myers and Ken Black Children’s Art Fund; the Favrot Fund; and Gifts in honor of Beth Schneider.