Leaping Horse, c. 1600
Count Cecil Pecci-Blunt (d. 1965), Palazzo Pecci-Blunt (formerly Palazzo Fani), Rome.
A promising young sculptor with a prodigious talent, Barthélemy Prieur was drawn to the Italian peninsula to further his studies, where it is known that he was in Rome as early as the 1550s, presumably after having finished his initial training in France (Seelig-Teuwen, 2008, pp.102-03).
Prieur has been identified with the sculptor ‘Bartolomeo’, who was working alongside Ponce Jacquio (active 1527 – 1572) on the decorations of the Ricci-Sacchetti palace in Via Giulia (Radcliffe, 1993, 275-276). Whilst his Roman activities remain scarcely documented, it has been suggested that in the 1550s he took part in the large stucco projects organised under the direction of Daniele da Volterra and Giulio Mazzoni; in the later works, his remarkable skill in the use of soft materials such as wax and clay for the models for his bronzes may indeed reflect his activity as a stuccoist (Seelig-Teuwen, 2008, p.102).
After several years in Rome, he moved to Turin, capital of the flourishing duchy of Savoy, where his presence is attested in October 1564. There, he became court sculptor to Duke Emmanuel-Philibert of Savoy (1528 – 1580), specializing in monumental bronze projects (Seelig-Teuwen, 1993, pp. 365-385). Drawing on his time spent in Rome with Jacquio, Prieur initiated and influenced the development of the small bronze statuette genre in France during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Warren, 2010, p. 22).
Prieur had returned to Paris by the time of his marriage to Marguerite Dalencourt on 27 September 1571 and was recorded to have made some small-scale bronzes by 1583 (Grodecki, 1986, pp. 129-133). When King Henri IV of France (1553-1610) came to the throne in 1589, he clearly took a liking to Prieur’s small bronze statuettes. Realising the enormous monarchical propaganda potential that these works would have had, he appointed Prieur to the coveted post of Sculpteur du Roi five years later. In this capacity, he is known to have made reliefs for the Petite Galerie of the Louvre around 1594, alongside restoring certain antique statues for the King.
The estate inventory drawn up in 1583 after the death of Prieur’s wife, along with that of his own estate made in 1611, present lists of models which demonstrate the sculptor’s penchant for depicting animals; the 1611 inventory includes: ‘three figures of animals of [a] lion and horses also of bronze, not chased, taken together ten livres tournois […]’ (Briere & Lamy, 1949, p. 54).
The present finely cast bronze portrays a leaping horse, modelled in Prieur’s distinctively delicate, almost balletic manner. Balanced on its slender, elongated legs, the horse is represented in an animated, elegant pose. Typical of Prieur’s horses are also the small head, the powerful haunches, and the treatment of the tail, tied in a knot. Stylistic comparisons with other bronzes corresponding to models which appear in Prieur’s inventories can allow us to safely attribute the present statuette to the sculptor. A very similar model to our horse can be seen in the group of Henri IV destroying his enemies recorded in the 1611 inventory: ‘another figure of the former King on horseback with two captives beneath, taken all together thirty livres tournois […]’ (Briere & Lamy, 1949, p. 52), a fine example of which is to be found in the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg (inv. 1962.116), while other casts, in which the horses have a hogged mane and the tail is tied up, like in our version, are in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (inv. A.42-1956) and in the Musée National du Château de Pau (inv. D.P. 53-3-11).
An extremely popular subject in European sculpture, the leaping horse had captivated sculptors since Leonardo was commissioned by Ludovico Sforza ‘Il Moro’, Duke of Milan (1452 – 1508) to create a colossal equestrian statue for his father, Francesco. Leonardo’s numerous studies, such as the folio in the Royal Collection in Windsor (inv. RCIN 912349), attest to the many technical and artistical challenges faced by the sculptor in the realisation of this model. The significance of the subject is beautifully epitomised in a celebrated engraving by Cornelis Cort after Stradanus in which the leaping horse stands as a true symbol of Scultura.