full screen background image

SSM's Horse Sculptures

Horse sculptures at the Horse Mansion in Emirgân

Sculptures of horses in the garden of Sabancı University's Sakıp Sabancı Museum are the reason why this large period house became known as the Horse Mansion (Atlı Köşk).

The Rearing Horse sculpture that stands in front of the house was modelled by Louis Daumas in Paris in 1864, and cast in bronze by Vor Thiebaut. The sculpture's first home in Istanbul was the Ottoman diplomat Abraham Paşa's farm on the hilltop above Büyükdere on the European shore of the Bosphorus. It was then moved to the garden of Mahmut Muhtar Paşa’s Marble Mansion in Moda. When this house was put up for sale, Hacı Ömer Sabancı saw the bronze sculpture and liked it so much that he purchased it for the garden of his summer residence in Emirgân.

The second sculpture of a horse that stands inside the main gate leading to the Horse Mansion is a copy of one of the four bronze horses that once stood in the Hippodrome in Constantinople and were taken to St. Mark's Church in Venice in the 13th century. In 1957, when Hacı Ömer Sabancı was on business in Europe ordering machinery for the Bossa factory, he visited the home of Mario Pensotti, owner of a steam boiler factory, in Milan and saw the sculpture in Pensotti's garden. He commissioned a copy, which was shipped to Istanbul along with the new machinery and placed in the front garden of the Horse Mansion.

Horse sculptures in the Hippodrome in Constantinople

Construction of Constantinople's Hippodrome began during the reign of the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus (193-211), and during the reign of Constantine I (324-337) it was enlarged and remodelled to resemble the Circus Maximus in Rome. The spina, which ran down the centre of the oval racing track and the semicircular sphendone at the southern end were adorned with numerous sculptures and monuments. The Egyptian obelisk, stone column and Serpentine Column are still standing on the spina today, but the sculptures must either have been destroyed or removed. The most celebrated of the Hippodrome sculptures was the Quadriga or victory chariot, pulled by four bronze horses.

In the Roman period this chariot and its four bronze horses stood on the north façade of the Hippodrome. The earliest written record of this statue group is found in an anonymous work dating from the late tenth century, the Patria Sive Origines Urbis Constantinopolitanae. From this source we learn that the horses were gold plated and brought to Constantinople from the island of Chios in the reign of Theodorius II (408-450).

Numerous mediaeval travellers mention the monuments and sculptures of horses in the Hippodrome, and the Byzantine historian Niketas Choniates (fl. twelfth and thirteenth centuries) records that there were four gilded bronze horses atop the Hippodrome tower during the reign of Manuel Comnenos (1143-1180). The Florentine traveller Christophore Buondelmonti, who visited Constantinople in the fifteenth century, relates that "the gilded statues of horses on the Hippodrome were carried off by the Venetians and placed on top of four columns in the Church of St. Mark's." Bertrandon de la Broquière, who travelled to Constantinople in 1432-33 as the ambassador of Philippe le Bon, Duke of Bourgogne, saw the columns on which the bronze horses had stood and reported that the horses themselves were now in Venice. The bronze horses were taken to Venice in 1204 during the occupation of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusaders.

Quadriga Horses

The word quadriga derives from the Latin word quattuor, meaning "four", and refers to a chariot drawn by four horses. The quadriga was associated with the Roman Senate and became a symbol of the Roman Empire, with sculptural representations traditionally surmounting triumphal arches. Victorious Roman generals would ride in a decorated triumphal chariot pulled by white horses in parades celebrating major victories, and the quadriga also came to symbolise victory.

Quadriga races were held in the Hippodrome, so the fact that the sculptures symbolised victory was of particular importance for both the competitors and the spectators at these sporting events.

After the bronze quadriga was taken to Venice and placed on the façade of St. Mark's Church it acquired an additional meaning for Christians. The quadriga driver was identified with Jesus Christ and the four horses with the four evangelists who wrote the four gospels of the New Testament.

In this way the quadriga acquired military, political and religious significance. Quadrigas were frequently depicted in ancient reliefs, but the set of four horses from Constantinople's Hippodrome that were taken to Venice is the only surviving example of sculptures in the round.

The anatomical proportions of the horses do not correspond to any particular type of horse. The body and neck are short and thick, and the legs are long. One of the front legs is in contact with the ground, while the other is raised in the air ready to step forward. The mouth is open and the tail tied by a band.