The Horse: From Arabia to Royal Ascot – The British Museum

The Grand Stand at Ascot

Some cultures favour the cow as their sacred animal, others the elephant, but the world over regards the horse as one of its special and noblest beasts. With this in mind, the British Museum are holding a free exhibition that covers the first cave drawings of horses, through the Assyrians, Greeks and Ottoman eras, to the paintings of George Stubbs and beyond, culminating at the final video of the dressage taken at this years 2012 London Olympics. For those interested in history and how armies thrived and won battles with the strength of their stallions, this is a must see. Using a horse for battle was first pictured in the Middle East, and it is from the mighty Arabian stock that the British have taken their racing horses.

Medal of Byzantine Emperor

The horse was first introduced to the Middle East from Central Asia and probably around this time, in 3500BC, was domesticated for our use. Before this time, people used donkeys as beasts of burden. Adopting the horse was one of our single most important discoveries for early human societies. They were used to pull wheeled vehicles, chariots, carts and wagons and horses were increasingly used for riding in the Near East from at least c. 2000 BC onwards. The exhibition looks at how and why Middle Eastern horses, especially Arabians, were especially sought after and introduced into Britain for selective breeding between the 17th and 18th centuries, and shows how the vast majority of modern Thoroughbred racehorses are descended from just three celebrity stallions.

Oxus Chariot model

This exhibition shows the many guises and forms the horse took through its own history, in the way of sculptures, clay tablets, paintings and of course other images on vases and plates. The fantastic underlying resonance of this horse exhibition is that whatever form the horse is depicted in, the artist in question appears to have a need to picture it in action, or by giving it life somehow. Rarely are any exhibits shown with a horse not displaying a verve and zest for adventure, by either the horse leaping or showing horses straining against a yoke or bridle.

Sasanian Battle

Amongst the exhibits are the painting of ‘Laetitia, Lady Lade’ by George Stubbs, a gold model chariot showing three golden horses from the Oxus treasures, a rectangular gold plaque made circa the 4th century and a ninth century BC Neo-Assyrian fragment of carved limestone. Other items of interest are the vase paintings from Attic Greece, the glazed pottery of the Islamic Middle East, and a Rembrandt drawing of an Indian miniature. It also explores George Stubbs love affair with painting a horse and here you find out that the man himself spent 18 months dissecting carcasses just so that he could get their anatomy correct.

Nobleman on Horseback – Rembrandt

This exhibition runs for another month and entry is free.

The Horse: From Arabia to Royal Ascot

The British Museum


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