Composizione, cavaliere rosa ed azzurro is a superb example of Marini's signature subject--the horse and rider. For Marini, the horse and rider symbolized the primeval, mythical harmony of man and nature. Marini updates a classical theme in the guise of a contemporary subject, depicted through the use of emphatically modern materials. As such, the Horse and Rider series becomes a reflection of the artist's personal response to history.
Marini produced his first equestrian work in 1936 after a trip to Germany, where he saw medieval sculptures of knights on horseback at the Bamberg Cathedral (fig. 1). There he was inspired to appropriate the horse, a classical symbol of power, as the vehicle to reflect his meditations on the state of the world. As Herbert Read describes:
The taming of the wild horse marked a definite stage in the evolution of human civilization. But such symbolism apart, the horse, by its animal form...is in itself a thing of beauty that naturally appeals to the artist...Marini, in selecting this animal as a subject, is showing a predilection as old as art itself. It is all the more amazing, therefore, that he should have given a new treatment to the subject (H. Read, P. Waldberg and G. di San Lazzaro, op. cit., p. 12).
In works from this early period, such as Gentiluomo a cavallo (fig. 2), the proportions of the horse and rider are relatively slender and both figures are poised, formal and calm. The rider sits steadily upon his steed, joined in a mystic union suggesting tradition and stability. In most cases, the horse and rider have serene faces and the colors are muted. The relationship of horse and rider in these works can also be understood in Jungian terms, as man harnessing and controlling his erotic instincts, the horse as a symbol of man's animal component.
In 1940, Marini's horse and rider theme became more simplified and archaic in spirit, the proportions squatter and less graceful for each. By the end of the 1940s we witness the horse planted immobile with its neck extended, strained, ears pinned back, and mouth open--the charged strength affirming the animal's sexual potency. Later, the rider becomes increasingly oblivious of his mount, involved in his own thoughts, and eventually, after the Second World War, the rider even topples from his horse as he falls to the ground in an apocalyptic image of lost control. This final metamorphosis is directly linked to the artist's observation of Italian peasants on frightened horses fleeing bombardment during the war. Marini has described the equestrian works of this time as a result of Italy's tragic devastation during the war. Indeed, these images of anguished horses throwing their riders off in fury parallel Marini's feelings of despair and uncertainty about the future of the world:
Personally, I no longer have the intention of celebrating the victory of a hero. I would like to express something tragic, almost the twilight of humanity, a defeat rather than a victory. If you consider, one after another, my statues...you will notice that each time the rider becomes less capable of mastering his horse and the animal becomes increasingly intractable and wilder instead of yielding. Quite seriously, I believe that we are approaching the end of the world (quoted in ibid., p. 491).
The present work masterfully illustrates a dramatic sense of crisis and climax, as the horse rears back, about to toss its rider off. The head is twisted and pulled back, displaying wild eyes, depicted by a large splotch of white paint. The frenzied movement of the horse is mimicked in the hastily applied, dripping line of red oil slashed across its face. Marini depicts the moment immediately before the rider loses control entirely and falls. In choosing this precarious instant, the artist imbues the viewer with the strong feelings of tension and uneasiness which he felt during this period. The composition of the work further solidifies this tension: the horse twists its front left leg in, disrupting the regular linear pattern of the other legs, which stand solidly erect like two columns supporting its torso. Its body shifts up and back, causing the rider to lean back as well as he slips from the animal, spreading his arms wide as he is thrown. A line can be traced from the horse's front leg up to the rider's leg, and then through his body to his right arm which is stretched out. In fact, this diagonal line, which cuts the canvas in half and emulates the backwards movement of the horse and rider, is painted in blues while the rest of the horse is painted in fiery reds, which seem to emanate from this central diagonal. The unbalanced composition combines with Marini's masterful use of color to create a striking image which eloquently conveys the sense of unease felt by the artist at this moment in history.
(fig. 1) Anonymous, The Bamberg Horseman, The Bamberg Cathedral, early 13th century.
(fig. 2) Marino Marini, Gentiluomo a cavallo, 1938.