The Marino Marini Foundation has confirmed the authenticity of this work, and has archived it as no. '211'.
Cavaliere of 1951 is part of a series of works that heralded a new and significant theme in Marini's work, representing the dark and fundamental crisis the artist felt characterised the modern era. Marini depicts a rider losing control and on the brink of falling from his steed, irrevocably disrupting the classical equilibrium that had once existed in his celebrated equestrian sculptures to create a poetic warning of impending doom. The expression of seemingly uncontrollable destructive forces came to dominate Marini's art after the Second World War, so much so that in 1972 he observed:
'My equestrian statues express the torment caused by the events of this century. The restlessness of my horse grows with each new work, the rider appears increasingly worn out, he has lost his dominance over the beast and the catastrophes to which he succumbs are similar to those which destroyed Sodom and Pompeii. I hope to make the last stage of the dissolution of a myth - the myth of heroic and victorious individualism, of the Humanists' virtuous man - visible' (Marini, quoted in Fondazione Marino Marini (ed.), Marino Marini, Catalogue Raisonné of the Sculptures, Milan, 1998, p. 14).
In Cavaliere, the ruptured symbiosis between man and horse is symptomatic of an imminent Apocalypse. Subverting the traditional triumphant stance of a warrior on horseback, Marini depicts the rider as a suffering hero struggling for survival - he is flung back dramatically, his truncated limbs flailing in an effort to counteract an inevitable fall. The horse's neck is stretched out, as though it was straining against the rider, but at the same time, its legs are firmly planted to form a stable pyramid. Perhaps, as Marini himself hinted, the rider's lack of balance is precipitating his fall, rather than the aggression of the horse, showing man as the cause of his own downfall.
Influenced by the ancient Etruscan art forms readily found in his hometown of Pistoia, Marini embraced early in his career the ancient iconographic tradition of the horse and rider as a universal symbol of the union between the forces of nature and man's reason and intellect, an image he felt summarised all human existence: 'The entire history of humanity and of nature exists within the figure of the horse and rider, in every era' (exh. cat., Comune di Pistoia, Livorno, 1979, pp. 29-30). Marini's riders were initially noble, serene and in complete harmony with their steed, embodying an elevated state of being in which reason maintained control of irrational impulses and desires. Yet, as Europe once again descended into war, Marini's once heroic concept of Man was destroyed and his equestrian sculptures became visions of anxiety and chaos that would eventually culminate in the collapsed forms of his Warriors series. Cavaliere reveals this shift in Marini's artistic vision, in which the horse and rider became characters from a modern Doomsday myth, a plaintive expression of the degraded state of mankind after the tragedy of war.
For Marini, his art was not specifically about horses, but an exploration of universal concepts that cross all cultural boundaries. Similar to his contemporary, the sculptor Giacomo Manzù, Marini sought an artistic style that conveyed originality, simplicity and emotion. The pared-down forms in Cavaliere demonstrate this perfectly, crystallising figurative form to its essential elements and eliminating descriptive detail for greater expressive force. The horse and rider are translated into the three dimensions, and yet the shapes are reduced, creating the impression that these figures represent all horses and all riders, and therefore all mankind. Reflecting the influence of the anguished horse in Picasso's Guernica, the horse grimaces in agony and the smooth rounded features of Marini's earlier equestrian figures gives way to sharp lines and elemental forms. For Cavaliere, Marini continued to work on the sculpture after it had been cast, creating a uniquely finished surface emblazoned with red highlights and finely chiselled, jewel-like triangles to heighten the drama and energy of the composition.
It has been noted that Marini's riders grew more angular after his first visit to the United States in 1950, a journey that served as a revelation in many ways. From this time onwards, a new rigidity evolves, resonating with the architecture of New York and the curves and corners of modern engineering. In a few years, this architectural influence would develop to the extent that his sculpture often resembled rent girders, creating powerful works, but ones which lacked the curves, fluidity and organic nature of his earlier sculpture. However, for a brief period in the early 1950s, he perfectly combined the neo-Etruscan reductiveness of his earlier works with this new angularity, perceptible especially in the limbs and the pyramidal posture of the horse in the present Cavaliere. Thus the timeless classicism that had always exemplified his work found a hard modern edge. By stylistically merging the primitive with the contemporary, Marini converts the ancient image of man and steed into a poignant symbol of the age in which it was created.