In his Le Vite de' più Eccellenti Pittori, Scultori e Architetti, Giorgio Vasari recalls how Leonardo da Vinci loved animals and especially horses - a fact that even a cursory look at his works on paper easily confirms. He drew horses with passion, depicting them from various angles, and each time playing with the expression, movement and bravado of these wonderful creatures. Many such studies can be found in the Royal collection, but in relation to the present bronze three particular drawings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, the Fitzwilliam, Cambridge, and the Royal Library, Windsor (Popham, op. cit) 60A and B, 64, 68 illustrate a link between the drawings and sculptures.
Leonardo was not generally known to have been a sculptor, but the inscription - or instruction - on the Windsor drawing (Popham, op.cit., no. 68) reads 'fanne un piccolo di cera, lungo un ditto' (make a small one in wax as long as a finger). The wax model that was subsequently made from either this or another drawing for the Trivulzio monument commission in Milan (Popham, op.cit., no. 101) was probably the basis for the bronze horse and rider in the Museum of Applied Arts, Budapest. While it is unclear whether the wax was made by Leonardo or his assistant Gianfrancesco Rustici, it is thought by Dr. Aggházy (Balogh, op. cit., p.116) that both wax and bronze were made by the master himself in order to preserve the model. While this point will doubtless continue to be a matter of contention, what is evident from the drawings and the bronze is that there is an expression and dynamism to this horse that is unmistakably Leonardo.
Even though the Budapest bronze varies in size and composition from the present lot, it is the overall expressiveness of both bronzes that connects them to the drawings. The latter is ultimately an interpretation of Leonardo's initial conception, the artist has maintained the same attention to classical proportions; a small head, thick neck and robust body while still exuding an energy that is both wild, romantic and completely unclassical. The highly worked surface may also indicate the influence of South German centres such as Augsburg which paid a similar amount of attention to the finishing of the surface - in this case the fastidious punching of the body and the incising of the hair.