Monday Minstrel: Generals, Kings and the Power Horse

IMG_20180714_1418206

Marshal Zhukov rides a white stallion in triumph over fascist Berlin in this painting by Vasily Yakovlev.  The mighty horse tramples on the symbols of Nazi power and crushes them beneath his hooves.  The white stallion is a metaphor for power, for might, for supremacy and for ultimate victory!  I doubt that Marshal Zhukov actually rode a white stallion into the rubble of a defeated Berlin.  But to have him mounted on this stallion in the painting elevates the Marshal to great heights.  Below is another famous painting of a leader on a white stallion. The one and only Napoleon Bonaparte.

IMG_20180714_1417163

This very famous painting by Jacques Louis David of Napoleon Crossing the Alps or Bonapart at the St. Bernard Pass, shows Naploeon on a white stallion in a levade. The swirling red cape, Napoleon’s arm raised to point the way ahead, the rearing stallion with a look of fire in its eye, all clearly indicate Napoleon is a warrior of tremendous bravery who can lead his troops to victory while calmly riding  a spirited stallion.  In real life Napoleon was a small man with a  plump figure. And historical record shows that Napoleon rode a mule and was a few days behind most of the army.  So this is the 1800 equivalent of “fake news”. However Napoleon was able to ride and he took advantage of the stature that gave him.

Here is the statue at Ground Zero in New York. Not a person on an armoured tank or a person with a big assault weapon. No, this is an American Green Beret, mounted on an Afghan pony,  that symbolizes ‘De Oppresso Liber’, Freedom from Oppression.  That is the power the image of a horse can bring.  How striking the similarity to the painting of Napoleon. But this depicts a real life event.

836px-America's_Response_Monument-De_Oppresso_Liber

The statue at Ground Zero commemorates the assault in Afghanistan in 2001 when 1,500 mounted soldiers of the Afghan Northern Alliance charged a Taliban stronghold and were victorious. That may be the last cavalry charge in mankind’s history.

Throughout history leaders of the armies, the Generals and the Kings, have been depicted on horses. The horse gives the human the look of power, might and victory. But now that horses are no longer used in battle how will the Generals and Kings be shown?  How will the stature and the power of the horse be replaced?

What do you think?  Leave a comment below to let me know.

23 Comments Add yours

  1. I’m a military historian so this is just my opinion based upon years of research.

    First, the horse is a very powerful symbol that has been used in art and propaganda for centuries. The horse symbolizes power, beauty, and strength, which as a symbol that probably never will be truly replaced. I can go into reams of art, poetry, literature, and yes, military/government propaganda in which the horse, and particularly the white horse/stallion was used to promote ideas, thoughts, and beliefs. Julius Caesar rode a white horse, not the first ruler to do so, but his white horse became legendary in his Triumphs in Rome. Artists in Rome used the white stallion as a major inspiration which became extremely popular during “Grecco-Italian Revival” during the Renaissance Period.

    Second, Napoleon was NOT short! Napoleon was closer to 5’7″ which was actually above average for a French man of his time. The average Frenchman was closer to 5’5″ so Napoleon was taller than the average Frenchman. Yes, he was a bit paunchy but he carried himself with a regal bearing that is still talked about in historical circles today.

    The issues come with the different units of measurements that was also used by the English and French at the time. The English were very desperate to disparage Napoleon on anything they could find, from his sexual conduct to his height. Napoleon also had personal bodyguards that were much larger/stronger than average which would have made Napoleon seem shorter than he really was.

    Americans read English propaganda, not the French propaganda which is why the issues of Napoleon’s height was dominated here in America (except in Louisiana a French territory at the time, Napoleon was a much-beloved character there). Also, Josephine was an incredibly tall woman, 5’9″ which is tall by today’s standards let alone early 1800’s. That is why in paintings, she is taller than Nap, cause she was!

    I’ll get off my soapbox now, and Viva la France!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you for this comment. You can get on your soap box anytime! I got the information on Napoleon’s height from Ulrich Raulff’s book “Farewell to the Horse”. He is German but may have been influenced by the British propaganda! However short or not Napoleon had the good sense to ride a mule across the Alps rather than a spiritid stallion. I think that was a wise choice.

      Like

      1. Even amongst historians the debate over height still rages on. It just comes down to truthfully, English vs French with the truth being somewhere in the middle. Napoleon did have an inferiority complex, but not from his height but alas, from his Mother who favored his brother over him. Then when France took over Corsica his Italian name and language became “Frenchified” with his accent showing his common roots. Napoleon was a very driven man, his military genius is still studied today. Napoleon did a lot of good with his grasp of the law and his codifying of Civil Law. He did have a rather old-fashioned (even by times) view on women. Women were gaining rights under post-monarchy France and Napoleon did not believe women should “walk the streets without a guardian” and “women belong in the home”. His hubris and his complex did eventually take him out, which hubris being one of the top causes of death for ambitious people. Then again as Julius Caesar once said, “It is only hubris if I fail.” so there ya go.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. anne leueen says:

          Thank you again for a very informative comment. As for Ulrich Raulff and his references to the diminutive sature of Napoleon it did occur to me that when I have travelled in Germany I have noticed there is no love lost for Napoleon due, no doubt , to his adventures there en route to Moscow. So perhaps Raulff is affected by that.

          Like

  2. Emma Cownie says:

    I don’t the horse as a symbol of power will ever be truly replaced in art – think of Putin riding bare- chested on his horse. He may not be riding into battle but its still a symbol of virility and power!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      I have to say the image of Putin riding bare chested on a horse is enough to put me off my breakfast!! So I’m glad I’ve read this after I’ve eaten! lol! However I take your point and the horse is still a symbol of virility and power.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Emma Cownie says:

        I do apologise for that – perhaps I should have issued a warning first!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. anne leueen says:

          Oh it’s ok I survived. We are just inundated with Trumo /Putin news here but mercifully not as much as if we were in the USA. So no need to apologize. I appreciate the humor!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. i”m loving your insightful posts lately! I’m learning so much – Biasini would be pleased I think!
    😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      I think Biasini got a chuckle out of the idea that a famous emperor crossed the Alps on a sensible mule! Thanks for your comment Laura I’m glad you are getting something out of the posts.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Judy says:

    The story of the 12 SF, Special Forces of Army and Air Force, who rode after 9-11 with the native army can be found in the book “12 Strong.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      Thank you Judy. I will look for that. I think a movie has been made as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Judy says:

        Yes, though I don’t think I can watch it. I couldn’t watch “War Horse” either.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. anne leueen says:

          I saw the film of War Horse and it was good but I was lucky and had already seen the stage play in London. The play was much more impressive and dramatic and, for me, much more moving. The puppet horses were real horses from the minute the first little foal came onstage. All the people in the audience identified so strongly with Joey and the other horses. It was magical.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Perhaps the generals will be depicted in future as giving commands in bases, drones, fighter jets or warships. Since warfare had changed completely from what it used to be, these older works of art depicting warriors on horses will remain indelible collections. They certainly will become priceless overtime.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      I agree and I think that the vision of a General in a fighter jet somehow doesn’t have the same impact as being mounted on a horse. Everyone can appreciate a beautiful horse but for most of us we are not that familiar with fighter jets to be impressed by whatever technology is presented. Besides the Generals don’t fly the jets. Now they sit in bunker meeting rooms!😃

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Generals got nothing for the artist these days. They got smarter poking at the war front behind closed doors. 😀😀😀

        Liked by 1 person

        1. anne leueen says:

          You are right about that!

          Like

  6. Jeff Rab says:

    Anne, I love your blog!! You are creative and every post is different but still dealing with the same horse subject!!

    Now as for Napoleon, a donkey makes sense, or even a Shetland Pony, but he looks WAY too tall for the painting on the horse!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      The painting as a “publicity” photo really. He was short and got plumper as years went on. Riding a mule across the Alps was a practical way to go. Who needs to be riding a spirited stallion for a trek. Like that. I think he may have actually ridden some white horses at other times though.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Jeff Rab says:

        …and used a ladder to get up on the white horses! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

I'd love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.