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Equestrian Sculpture of Marcus Aurelius

Video transcript

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 day but it's sometime around 176 or 180 C it's in a new space because it was suffering some conservation problems and so had to be removed from the Campidoglio their Michelangelo had put it and actually that's an important point because we don't know where it originally was in Rome now what's really important is that this is the only equestrian sculpture of the size to survive from antiquity and we know that there had been dozens of them in Rome they were created to celebrate the triumphal return of an emperor there's so much authority as a result of him on horseback clearly ruling his left arm is lightly holding the reins of or would have been lightly holding the reins of the horse the right hand protrudes out addressing the troops addressing the citizens of Rome there's a sense of confidence in his posture and of course in the scale it is enormous this survived because it was thought to have represented Constantine damper 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 this could have ended up as a cannon right so we're lucky it survived and had 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 and bronze had also been lost and it just shows how accomplished the ancient Romans were of their handling of the material but also the representation the real understanding of the body of its musculature and of the anatomy of the horse striding forward it's so animated in life like the folds of the neck as his head pushes downward and the folds of the drapery that Marcus Aurelius is wearing how it comes down and drapes over his leg in the back of the horse it'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 he's pulling to the right 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 and leaning to the right there's a kind of animation throughout there's also this unity between this incredibly powerful animal and Marcus Aurelius right he's in full control of the horse yes and I think that that's the point it's an even kind of moving forward while pulling the horse with his body that's holding it back 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 is it me or does he seem a little too big for the words do you know if this was cast in one piece 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 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 and a portrait these were things that had been lost in the Middle Ages 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 those things come together in the Renaissance again having originally come together of course in the classical world