The Marino Marini Foundation has confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Marini’s Piccolo cavaliere of 1948 is a sculpture of and for its time, moreover one that had been in the making for nearly three millennia. “I like going to the source of things,” Marini declared. “I am interested in a civilization at its beginning. I have always looked for the part that was the kernel of a civilization, for example, the Etruscans.” Horse breeding and training flourished in ancient Etruria, the neighboring rival state of early Rome. “There is the whole story of humanity and nature in the figure of the horseman and his horse” (quoted in S. Hunter and D. Finn, op. cit., 1993, pp. 15 and 22).
The town of Pistoia in Tuscany, Marini’s birthplace, lies in the heart of old Etruria. “I had been fortunate in renting a studio, when I was a beginner, in Monza near Milan, where my neighbors owned a big livery stable. I made the most of the opportunities offered me and drew and modeled horses almost every day” (quoted in E. Roditi, Dialogues on Art, Santa Barbara, 1980, p. 36). Marini’s first mature equine sculptures, modeled during the mid-1930s, reflect the balance and steadiness of classical antiquity, the “sober realism”—as he described it—he discovered in the imagery of ancient tomb paintings, as well as later equestrian statues such as Campione’s 14th century monument to Bernabò di Visconti in Milan. The ethos of the Fascist era celebrated the revival of the myth of the hero.
The catastrophic events of the Second World War changed everything. The retreating German army in Italy was dependent on requisitioned horse transport; the hapless creatures suffered horribly from the bombs, shells, and bullets of the advancing Allied liberators. From a train Marini witnessed the heartrending sight of a stricken horse rearing up in terror, just as Picasso had painted in Guernica.
The present sculpture and the monumental version, Cavaliere, also created in 1948 (Carandente, no. 313), represent the welcome end to this calamitous period in modern Italian history. This variation on the horse and rider theme, by this time for Marini amounting to an obsession in his work, “bears traces of the artist’s classicizing mood,” Sam Hunter wrote. “The rider, head thrown back and arms enfolding his torso, appears restful, consumed in a self-absorbed dream state. The horse’s outstretched head, by contrast, shows enormous inward effort and stress. This jarring configuration hints at the phallic significance of the conjoined horse/rider image, and that underlying meaning becomes more explicit in Marini’s later, more agonized oeuvre” (op. cit., 1993, p. 25).
The sense of well-being in the present Cavaliere expresses a short-lived respite in the course of events. “Developments in the post-war world soon began to disappoint me,” Marini explained, “and I no longer felt any such faith in the future. On the contrary, I then tried to express, in each one of my subsequent equestrian figures, a greater anxiety and a more devastating despair... As soon as it seeks to express anxiety, sculpture also wanders away from the ideals of classicism” (op. cit., 1980, pp. 39 and 40).
“It is a feeling, deep within me,” Marini revealed, “that must be related to what the Romans felt, in the last days of the Empire, when they saw everything around them, a whole order that had existed for centuries, swept away by the pressure of barbarian invasions. My equestrian figures are symbols of the anguish that I feel when I survey contemporary events. Little by little, my horses become more restless, their riders less and less able to control them... So I am trying to illustrate the last stages of the disintegration of a myth of the individual victorious hero, the uomo di virtù of the Humanists... Far from being heroic, my works of the past twelve years [since the end of World War II] seek to be tragic” (ibid., p. 38).