'The whole history of humanity and nature lies in the figure of horse and rider in every period. Since my childhood, I have observed these beings, man and horse, and they were for me a question mark. In the beginning there was a 'harmony' between them, but in the end, in contrast to this unity, the violent world of the machine arrives, a world which captures it in a dramatic, though no less lively and vitalising, way.' (Marino Marini, quoted in G. & G. Guastalla, ed., L. Papi, intr., Marino Marini, Pistoia, 1979, pp.29-30.)
Until relatively recently the image of man and horse, the central image in Marino Marini's oeœuvre, was endemic in life as well as art. The taming of the horse was instrumental to humanity's development; so too the horse's replacement by the automobile has marked another moment of development. For Marini, his horses and riders reflect a symbiosis between man and Nature that is both internal and external.
Cavaliere is a highly expressive evocation of this relationship. Here, the internal 'wildness' embodied in the horse is highlighted by the phallic nature of its neck. Yet it is not merely phallic, but also a metaphorical extension of the rider's own penis. The man's sexuality is not distanced but externalised. His position emphasises the connection: his back is arched in ecstasy and his arms are outstretched in a loss of control that is both fearful and rapturous. Marini is less interested in sexuality than in the destructive/creative power that is so inseparable from its release.
Born in 1901, Marini's art evolved in conjunction with the traumatic developments of Italy's turbulent path through the 20th Century. As the century progressed, the force of destruction became increasingly dominant in his sculptures, 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.' (quoted G. Carandente, op. cit., 1998, p. 14.)
In this work of 1951, the harmonious link between man and horse has been broken, a rupture symptomatic of an imminent Apocalypse. Marini's use of the horse as a motif in the representation of destruction reflects the influence of the rampaging horse at the centre of Picasso's Guernica (1937) rather than the equestrian portrait of Emperor Henry II (c.1230, Bamberg Cathedral), the original inspiration for his horse and rider theme. Anyone who lived through both wars, especially in a battleground like Italy, saw man's destructive power on a truly apocalyptic level. Marini's tumbling horseman is a character in the modern Doomsday mythology.
In Cavaliere, the horse's neck is stretched out, as though it were straining, perhaps trying to buck its rider, but at the same time, its legs form a stable pyramid. Perhaps, as Marini himself hinted, the rider's lack of balance is precipitating his fall, not the horse's aggression. In this way, man is shown as the source of his own destruction, causing his own fall, discarding the horse, rather than being discarded. Indeed, if the horse is straining at all, it appears to be straining to keep the rider on its back, lowering its front to counter the falling man's unbalance.
The use of colour is crucial to almost all of Marini's sculptures. Colour is achieved in his bronzes through his particular attention to the tone of the patina and the addition of paint, as shown in Cavaliere by the diamond on the rider's chest, that has been echoed by the hatched diamonds and red paint applied on the horse. The meaning of this symbol is less significant than its function: Man and mount are united through this arcane system of signs that remains specific to them. The design is reminiscent of those worn by the bareback riders of the Sienese Palio, which represent their various districts. The badges represent a community. Similarly, in Cavaliere, horse and rider are also identified through each other, each wearing the badges of their own exclusive society.