It's Just a Guy on a Horse



A simple essay, written for school. Are you a fan of bronze statues of men on horseback?


It’s Just an Old Man on a Horse

Who is that old man on the horse? In English or Italian, these questions could be asked of the statues that were put up in order to remind people of greatness and conquest. The commanding presence of a statue of a man upon a great horse has traditionally meant that we are to stand in awe of the towering figure presented before us. Comparing the bronze statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome to the statue of Andrew Jackson in Washington D.C. reveals just how similar they are in terms of what they were made of, how they present the rider, and what the sculptors were hoping to commemorate. According to Snopes, there is no “meaning” that can be attached to the fact that the horse on which Aurelius is seated has one hoof raised and that the horse on which Jackson is riding has two hooves raised.

The materials used in the construction of the two statues are bronze, which is a metal that can be shaped and formed in such a way as to render a realistic portrayal of a person or an animal in a life-sized sculpture. The methods used are very similar, however. Both the Jackson statue and Aurelius statue were constructed of different pieces that were cast separately and then assembled to present the rider on the horse. According to the National Park Service, Jackson’s statue was the first bronze equestrian statue constructed in the United States; the statue of Aurelius is the only bronze equestrian statue from antiquity that is known to have survived. The scale of the Jackson statue is more proportional than the Aurelius statue, which, according to Sullivan, may have been constructed of two pieces—Aurelius and the horse—and combined later. Both use a great deal of detail to present a realistic image.

Aurelius is presented in a much different way than Jackson. It is speculated that Aurelius was positioned above a vanquished enemy and the reason why his empty right hand is outstretched may have been in such a way as to suggest that he is giving quarter or mercy to an enemy. According to Sullivan, the face of Aurelius looks down and this may have been done to suggest that he was a philosopher. His horse is held steady. Jackson holds his hat in his right hand in the act of waving it. According to the National Park Service, the Jackson statue was meant to commemorate the review of his troops after the victory at the Battle of New Orleans. Jackson looks straight ahead, even though his horse is rearing back and has both front hooves off of the ground Jackson’s sword is worn on his left hip and is sheathed. Aurelius has no sword or weapon. Both are statues of men who found fame and greatness through military conquest. Jackson’s statue celebrates this fact in a subtle way; the statue of Aurelius displays no weapons in order to present him as a great man who is more than the sum of his military accomplishments.

The two statues commemorate different periods or aspects of the respective careers of the two subjects. Aurelius is shown as a benevolent leader, offering a hand of mercy while displaying no weapons. The sculptor may have pursued the flattery of Aurelius and his supporters by showing him as the Roman ideal—a leader who will conquer and then give mercy to those who ask for it. The Aurelius statue shows him at the pinnacle of his accomplishments. The Jackson statue displays the rider as having spurs, a sword, and a waving hat, signifying military accomplishment and glory. It was created after a great battle but before Jackson became President. Had the statue been done after the Jackson presidency, there is a very good chance that it would have been done without the sword. Both statues were erected and placed on pedestals in order to tower above others and display the subjects as idealized versions of the mortal men upon which they are based.

The classical tradition of sculpture and presentation are very much evident in these two pieces, even though they are separated by some 1,700 years of human history. The Jackson piece is done in such a way as to pay tribute to the influence of the Aurelius piece but it adds a militaristic tone that is deliberately absent. These pieces were meant to show their subjects at two different places in their careers. Aurelius is at the pinnacle of his leadership of the Roman people, and Jackson has just arrived at greatness, thanks to his military accomplishments.

Works Cited

"Jackson Statue." National Park Service. Unknown. Web. 7 Sep. 2011.

“Statue of Limitations.” Snopes.com. 2 Aug. 2007. Web. 7 Sep. 2011.

Sullivan, Mary. “Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius in the Capitoline Museum, Rome.” Bluffton University. 2006. Web. 7 Sep. 2011.