Happy National Day of the Horse! The Horse In Ancient Art From Around The World

The Horses of Saint Mark, also known as the Triumphal Quadriga, is a set of bronze statues of four horses, originally part of a monument depicting a quadriga (a four-horse carriage used for chariot racing) The horses were placed on the facade, on the loggia above the porch, of St Mark’s Basilica in Venice, northern Italy after the sack of Constantinople in 1204. They are currently in interior of St. Mark’s for conservation purposes, with replicas in their position outside.


I got inspired to write this article about the history of the horse in art, because today is the National Day of the Horse! Below are paintings and sculptures from different countries and regions around the world. 2004 was the first year that congress recognized the National Day Of The Horse on December 13th. This event was created to remind congress and others what the horse represents. Also encouraging citizens to be mindful of the contribution of horses to the economy, history, and character of the United States.

The Horse In Art History

The horse: A four-legged mammal that has changed the world through time and space. This extraordinary animal first used as a meat source by early humans, then it was later discovered by these brave and adventurous people how to ride this fantastic creature, that some say, is “faster than the wind”.

Since that time, horses have been immortalized into stories, legends, myths, gods, texts, and of course, art. The Native Americans thought that they were “gods” when people brought horses to the Americas for the first time aboard ships.  Some South Asian cultures believed that the first  horse emerged from the depths of the ocean during the churning of the waves with wings and the name “Uchchaihshravas” was given. The legend continues that Indra, one of the gods of the Hindus, took the mythical horse to his celestial palace, the svarga (heaven). The wings were severed to ensure the horse remains on the earth and does not fly back to Indra’s suvarga.


Painting. General subject - deity. Vishnu as Kurma. Painted on Paper.
“Dasavatara”. Top left right-hand corner features “Uchchaihshravas” at the British Museum

Other depictions of our favorite creature aren’t exactly in “museum size”. I guess the people who built them didn’t think that hundreds of years later, their ancestors would be displaying their handiwork! One of the several larger-then-life sculptures is the Uffington White Horse, one of the many chalk horses throughout England. This one is consider to be the oldest one, dating back to the bronze age.


Horse Art In France

The famous cave paintings in Lascaux in France, thought to be around 20,000 years old.


“Saint Louis Conqueror Of The English At Taillebourg”, Saint Louis Chapel, France.


Horse figure made in France in the first half of 17th Century. Currently at the Hermitage Museum



Made in France Between 1750 and 1785. Currently in the Hermitage Museum


The Horse In Art Italy

Marble statue of a youth on horseback, Roman,
“The boy’s facial features and hairstyle resemble those of members of the Julio-Claudian dynasty of Roman emperors. When the sculpture first entered the Museum it was identified as a portrait of the emperor Caligula or Gaius (AD 37-41) in his youth. Later it was thought that the head might not belong to the body, and that the body itself dated to the mid-later second century, representing, perhaps, one of the imperial princes of that period. During recent cleaning, however, it was observed that the marble of the head of the youth and the unrestored parts of the horse were the same. This has raised once more the possibility that horse and rider belong and indeed represent a Julio-Claudian prince.” Curator’s comments. Made about AD 1-100

Horse In Art Egypt 

Relief fragment with chariots
“Relief fragment with chariots” ca. 1352–1336 B.C., Egypt. Currently in the Metropolitan Museum Of Art.

Horse In Art China

“Flying Horse” East Han Dynasty (around the 2nd century BC) Bronze. Currently in the Gansu Provincial Museum, Lanzhou, China


“The painting of postman on horse”, Jiayuguan WeiJin Dynasties, 3rd AD Century. Gansu Provincial Museum

“Painted wooden unicorn” Western Han Dynasty, 206BC–8AD. Gansu Provincial Museum

“Bronze honored guard of horsemen and chariots” Eastern Han Dynasty, 25–220 AD. Gansu Provincial Museum


“Coloured wooden chariot”  Western Han Dynasty, 206 BC–8 AD. Gansu Provincial Museum

Horse Art in Twian 

Night-Shining White. Painting by Han Gan. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Horse with Rider. Painting by Han Gan. National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan.


Horse Art in Japan

Made in Japan in the Late 18th century. Currently in the Hermitage Museum
Made in Japan in the Late 18th century. Currently in the Hermitage Museum

Horse Art in Iran

Made in Iran during the 10th century. Currently at the Hermitage Museum


Horse Art In Russia

Made in Russia in the First Millennium BC. Currently at the Hermitage Museum


Made in Russia in the First Millennium BC. Currently at the Hermitage Museum

Horse Art In Greece

“Horse with Wheels” Clay statuette in the Eretria Museum


Bronze statue of leaping horse and young jockey. Circa 140 BCE. Athens National Musuem.
File:Bronze Statuette of a Horse.jpg
Bronze Greek Statuette of a Horse, direct low-wax casting, late 2nd – 1st century B.C. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.


The horse’s head from the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, 250 BC. It comes from the tomb of King Mausolus at Halicarnassus ( coast of Asia Minor) and was known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World before being destroyed by an earthquake in the middle ages and later plundered. It is said that there was a life size four-horse chariot sculpture surmounting this huge tomb. This is the olny serviving horse. Currently in the British Museum.


Amazon frieze from the tomb of Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, at The British Museum

Horse Art In Germany

Horse head armor made in Germany Between 1515 and 1525. Currently Hermitage Museum
Horse head armor made in Germany Between 1515 and 1525. Currently Hermitage Museum

I hope you enjoyed this article and learned something new about ancient equine art! Without these noble steeds, every civilization around the world would not be as advanced as it is today.

Thanks for reading,


Huh? What? Well, I will believe that when I see flying Shetlands !

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