Miniature Bronze Quadriga
Constantinople (?), about 500
Bronze, 13.7 x 13.3 cm
George Ortiz Collection, Geneva
The eye cavities, perhaps once filled with glass or a precious substance, are now hollow. The hind legs are bent out of shape and no longer rest on the same level as the left front leg. Both sides of the horse's midsection show haphazard gouges and abrasions. The tail has been broken off.
The raised right front leg in combination with the head turned in the direction of a stabile left front leg corresponds to the traditional ancient Greek schema for posing the left inner horse (as seen by the spectator) in a formal quadriga.
The present owner is credited with identifying the style as early Byzantine and with dating the object around 500, which is acceptable in view of the comparison he makes to the emperor's horse on the Barberini diptych. The Barberini horse shares the same stylization of a somewhat heavy and protruding mouth of which the outline is distinctly U-shaped. Other stylizations evident here include the elongated-triangular profile of the left front leg, the unnatural way in which the raised right front leg is attached to the body, and the regularly incised treatment of the fetlocks.
The group to which it belonged may have been inspired by the monumental gilded bronze quadriga which Constantine had brought to Constantinople and erected on porphyry columns in the Milion in the center of the city – which could be the bronze quadriga located today on the facade of San Marco in Venice brought to Venice as a result of the looting of Constantinople in 1204. The small horse's pose matches that of the left-most steed in the present mounting of the Venice horses, while their unusual feature of stiff, clipped manes punctuated at intervals by V-shaped partings is carried over into the miniature horse, together with some part of their naturalistic skin folds, veins, and musculature.
Formerly said to have come from a Roman triumphal arch, the Venice horses have recently been associated with a Greek monument, the golden chariot of the Rhodians at Delphi. Constantine had the monumental quadriga mounted with a chariot carrying Helios, the god to whom the patriarch Eusebius was to compare Constantine himself. The miniature reduction may have the same significance as the quadriga of Helios. The place of manufacture was probably Constantinople.