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Heads or Tails? Painting History with a Horse

Heads or Tails? Painting History with a Horse

Chapter:
(p.21) Chapter One Heads or Tails? Painting History with a Horse
Source:
Precarious Partners
Author(s):
Kari Weil
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226686400.003.0002

The horse has been deemed worthy of visual representation throughout history, perhaps because history as conquest has so often depended upon horses. Might the horse also be regarded as a subject and agent of history? This chapter considers the changing understanding and representation of the horse in natural history and in the academic traditions of history painting celebrating military conquest at the turn of the nineteenth century. It turns to the work of Théodore Géricault, whose portraits of men and horses paint a new physical and psychological companionship between soldiers, and consequently, a new vision of conquest and of history. The “queer” intimacies of man and horse reach a new phase in his sketches of riderless horseraces in Rome. Representative of social changes in the aftermath of the Revolution and the Empire, these horsemen who are running aside rather than riding astride, appear to have gained in muscle but have lost the power over nature/history that Hegel saw as exemplified by Napoleon on horseback.

Keywords:   George Stubbs, Jacques-Louis David, Théodore Géricault, physiognomy, history, (be)hindsight

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