Leonardo’s Gran Cavallo
Leonardo’s reputation as a sculptor rests on a statue of a horse that he never finished. His patron, who was to have eventually been portrayed on the much-greater-than-life-size Gran Cavallo, had war and money troubles and swiped Leonardo’s bronze for cannon-building.
Leonardo thought that a giant rearing horse would be cool, but couldn’t figure out how to make it work structurally, and he ended up showing the horse in a trot (left), after an antique horse sculpture in Pavia that he admired. “The movement is more praiseworthy than anything else. The trot almost has the quality of a free horse.”
Fritjof Capra, whose The Science of Leonardo I’ve been reading, has Leonardo meticulously measuring “several superb thoroughbreds” for his design. Oops—not in the fifteenth century he wasn’t. (Perhaps a kind reader would speculate on the breeding of the horses in these pictures.)
The statue was finally cast, without a rider, which Leonardo intended to add later, in 1999 and stands in Milan.