Anglomania (Part 2): Federico Mazzucchelli witness and critic of the “British Fashion”

James Seymour, A Horseman Galloping, uncertain date © Tate Modern Gallery - Londra

James Seymour, A Horseman Galloping, uncertain date
© Tate Modern Gallery – Londra

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

In the first part of this article we saw that, in the eighteenth century, a growing interest in the British institutions and culture spread throughout Europe. This trend also involved the equestrian field. “English equitation” became fashionable and interest in horse racing and country riding raised. So much so that in the nineteenth century English clothing, harnesses and horses became de rigueur among the continental enthusiasts.

Since at least the seventeenth century, the different morphological features of English horses and their use in racing and hunting in the countryside stimulated, in England, the evolution of a different way of riding in comparison with the other countries of Europe, where the academic style was still prevalent. The most evident innovation was the introduction of the rising trot, which was exactly called the “English trot”. This came together with a seat with shorter stirrups and a slightly forward position of the upper body. This technique also required different tools: starting from the flat saddle, with low pommel and cantle, and the bridoon, which in many cases was associated with a curb bit with shorter shanks than the one in use in academic riding, attached to a second rein.

Filippo Palizzi, Cavaliere al trotto, datazione incerta La moda inglese portò alla diffusione in tut'Europa del trotto sollevato Galleria dell'Accademia di Belle Arti di Napoli

The “English trot” spread in Europe since the second half of the eighteenth century
Filippo Palizzi, Trotting horseman, Eigtheenth century
Galleria dell’Accademia di Belle Arti di Napoli

The spreading of this new way of riding in the “English style”, even in continental Europe, ignited lively debates which, in many ways, resembles the diatribes that real, or supposed “innovations” in equestrianism, stir up even today. For example, we can compare it to the dispute that now divides supporters and opponents of so-called “natural horsemanship”. Even in the case of “English riding”, between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, practitioners and horse lovers were divided between enthusiasts and absolute opponents. We find an interesting testimony of this controversy in a chapter of Federico Mazzucchelli’s book Scuola equestre (Equestrian School, 1805), entitled Avvertimenti sul modo di cavalcare all’inglese e sulle corse praticate in Inghilterra (Remarks on how to ride in the English style and about the horse races practiced in England).

Mazzucchelli begins his argument noting that this way of riding “which today is very fashionable […] produces many reasons of disagreements and issues. There is no person, even ignorant of horse riding, who has not his particular way of considering it” (MAZZUCCHELLI, 1805, Volume II, p. 285). In short, the debate did not involve only experts, but the new fashion was so widespread and popular that even those who were “ignorant of horse riding,” had their own opinion about it. With great, good sense, Mazzucchelli distinguishes between a proper way of “riding in the English style” and a wrong way, which, as unfortunately it often happens, was predominant because it was the easier way.

The same thing happens also in England, where those who are good [riders] are not many, and indeed they can be pointed out among all the others and deservedly exalted. There [in England] the number of riders is infinite, and an easy way, suited to those who have no skills, or who do not want to learn, is widespread. In Europe, this way is fatally believed worthy of imitation, as if it was the best of that school. Instead that is not but the manner of common people, who are ignorant of these interesting gymnastics. (MAZZUCCHELLI, 1805, Volume II, p. 285)

James Seymour, A Bay Racehorse with Jockey Up, ca 1730 Yale Center for British Art

James Seymour, A Bay Racehorse with Jockey Up, ca 1730
Yale Center for British Art

Mazzucchelli says that the English technique is particularly suited for riding in the countryside and at the races, but it is especially necessary because of the characteristics of English horses. The author does not seem to appreciate them, while he prefers the breeds traditionally used in academic riding, Andalusians and Barbs, but he liked also Arabs. He considers English horses rather unsuited to the typical collected gaits of academic exercises. For this reason he believes

that the education of this quadruped, destined to racing and hunting, will be directed to instruct him to the extended trot in the open field, and supported with long working sessions. The disciplines which tend to collection would be inopportune; therefore the lesson which is said “to bend [collect] a horse”, which makes the horse sensitive to the legs and able to perform two track movements like half-pass and pirouettes, would be unworkable. So it all comes down to a negligent walk, a low but active and violent trot; to an ordinary and full speed canter, either right or left at random. (MAZZUCCHELLI, 1805, Volume II, p. 286)

Traduci Baucher eseguì le più sofisticate arie di scuola con cavalli inglesi Baucher performed the most sophisticated school airs with English horses M. L. Heirauld, François Baucher riding Partisan, cantering backwards From F. Baucher, Souvenirs équestres, Paris, Manège Baucher et Pellier, 1840.

Baucher performed the most sophisticated
school airs with English horses
M. L. Heirauld, François Baucher riding Partisan, cantering backwards
From F. Baucher, Souvenirs équestres, Paris, Manège Baucher et Pellier, 1840.

This was a far too severe opinion, which was clearly vitiated by a prejudice. In the nineteenth century, in fact, English horses will be used with amazing results also in academic riding, and will prove to be capable (with riders of the caliber of François Baucher, or James Fillis) of very sophisticated exercises. Instead Mazzucchelli considers them rather hard horses, heavy on the hand, and on which it is impossible to support the elegant seat of academic riders. According to him, they could only be ridden while posting the trot and leaning forward. For this reason, he considers ridiculous the idea of combining the English and the academic styles, which in his opinion are completely incompatible.

Nevertheless, even Mazzucchelli admits that, with suitable horses, it is possible, and necessary, to use the new technique. He then outlines the ideal portrait of the “good English rider.”

He is determined in going forward, perfectly leading the horse, using the bridoon; and as light as a feather and in perfect balance, more on the stirrups than on the saddle, quite leaning forward, and with the left shoulder more forward than the right, he accompanies the energetic movement of the trot, gracefully rising, at the right time, avoiding the shock and pushing the horse in the momentum. (MAZZUCCHELLI, 1805, Volume II, p. 287)

George Stubbs, Otho, with John Larkin up , ca 1768 © Tate Modern Gallery - Londra

George Stubbs, Otho, with John Larkin up , ca 1768
© Tate Modern Gallery – Londra

According to Mazzucchelli the ideal English horse should be:

quite tall; of light and slender shape; courageous, fast and enduring; strong in the extended trot, so that the movement on the horizontal line is resolute and fast. (MAZZUCCHELLI, 1805, Volume II, p. 288)

English horses were prized for their height John Wotton, The Hon. John Spencer beside a Hunter held by a Young Boy, 1733-6 © Tate Modern Gallery - Londra

English horses were prized for their height
John Wotton, The Hon. John Spencer beside a Hunter
held by a Young Boy, 1733-6
© Tate Modern Gallery – Londra

He says that he also rode in England, following the dictates of this technique, and that this gave him “a very pleasant sensation:”

The surroundings of London, the movement, the wealth, the industry, the beautiful roads scoured so quickly, produce a singular meeting of pleasures, that you can hardly find together in other places. This is another kind of horse riding, another kind of delight. It almost seems that the rider is ravished and transported by fast wings, and dealing almost nothing with his horse, he is revived by the rapid change of the objects surrounding him, so many, and so different from each other. (MAZZUCCHELLI, 1805, Volume II, p. 289)

Although clearly influenced by his preference for the academic tradition, Mazzucchelli’s opinion of the English style proves to be quite balanced and clearly demonstrates the evolution of equestrian techniques between the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. An evolution determined by complex factors which highlights the rich network of relationships and mutual influences that links horse riding to our culture.

As it is shown by this beautiful plate of his treatise, Mazzucchelli preferred the classical academic style Basilio Lasinio, Riding School, in MAZZUCCHELLI, 1805

As it is shown by this beautiful plate of his treatise,
Mazzucchelli preferred the classical academic style
Basilio Lasinio, Riding School,
in MAZZUCCHELLI, 1805

Bibliography

MAZZUCCHELLI, Federigo,  Scuola equestre, Milano, presso Gio Pietro Giegler, Libraio sulla Corsia de’ Servi, 1805.

Anglomania (Part 1): The spreading of English style equitation in the Eighteenth century

James Seymour, Mr Russell sul suo cavallo baio da caccia, c.1740 © Tate Modern Gallery - Londra

James Seymour, Mr Russell on his Bay Hunter, c.1740
© Tate Modern Gallery – Londra

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

It seems that James Seymour’s passion for horses and horse racing finally led him to ruin. Not much is known of his life, but a chronicler of the time hints that, despite being the son of a banker and diamond trader, he died in 1752, reduced to poverty by the demon of gambling and by the costs of maintenance of his racing horses. Nevertheless, it is for that same passion for horses that his name has been handed down to posterity. Seymour, who was born in London in 1702, was in fact one of the first painters, along with John Wotton (1682-1764) and Peter Tillemans (1684-1734), who devoted his artistic production to sport. His favorite subjects were horses, which he vividly portrayed in many paintings and drawings, especially dedicated to hunting scenes and to the races at Newmarket, which in the first half of the eighteenth century became the most popular sport in England.

Among the various paintings of equestrian subjects that Seymour left us, there is one, preserved at the Tate Modern Gallery in London, which is particularly interesting. It is the portrait of a gentleman on horseback in the English countryside accompanied by his hound. The identity of the rider is not certain. An old label on the verso suggests he may be a descendant of Admiral Edward Russell (1653-1727), Earl of Orford, owner of Chippenham Park manor, near Newmarket. What is most striking in the picture is the rider’s clothing, which is represented in the most minute detail. He wears a green frock coat tightened at the waist with a leather belt, a dark jockey cap, light and firmly-tied breeches-lacings, with a buttoned leather strap above the knee, and tall, rigid, bicolored boots. His stylish outfit is completed by a scarf which is tied around his neck and a pair of light, soft leather gloves. With equal accuracy, the painter represented the details of the harness. The horse is bridled with a full cheek snaffle bit and a headstall without a noseband. The saddle is partially hidden by the coat of the rider, but the visible details identify it as a hunting type “English saddle”, with low pommel and cantle and short flaps. Note the folded saddle blanket, and the second girth which goes over the seat and done up under the horse. The horse has the typical slender body of the thoroughbred, with a curved and long neck and a small head. The picture is dated around 1740.

Philibert Benoît de La Rue Monsieur de Nestier, écuyer ordinario della grande scuderia del Re, (stampa di Jean Daullé), 1753 © British Museum - Londra

This picture is considered the emblem
of the classic academic seat
Philibert Benoit de La Rue, Monsieur de Nestier,
Ordinary écuyer of the great King’s stable,
(engravings by Jean Daullé), 1753
© British Museum – Londra

A simple comparison with other equestrian portraits of the time makes the historical importance of Seymour’s picture immediately obvious. Consider, for example, the very famous picture of Louis Cazeau de Nestier (1684-1754), écuyer of the great King’s stable, portrayed while he was riding Le Florido, by Philibert Benoit de La Rue, in 1751. This picture, which was made popular by Jean Daullé’s engraving (1753), is considered the touchstone of the classic academic seat. In this case, the rider wears a tailcoat with wide cuffs, tall and soft musketeer boots, wig and tricorn. The horse is mounted with a double bridle, with a saddle à la Française, with high saddle-bow, but low cantle. The horse is a beautiful Andalusian stallion, which was sent as a gift to Louis XV by the King of Spain.

The two riders could not be more different. Nestier is the emblem of eighteenth-century classical equitation, while the rider portrayed by Seymour looks like a gentleman of the following century. His clothing, harnesses, and even the type of horse he is riding, will in fact be widespread throughout Europe in the nineteenth century (and bicolored hunting boots are still in use today). Yet, if the dating is correct, Seymour’s picture is a decade earlier than that by de La Rue. This inconsistency indicates an interesting historical phenomenon, which testifies, once again, the close connection between politics, fashion and horse riding. In a word, it demonstrates that the equestrian art cannot be confined within the mere sphere of material culture, but fully takes part in the evolution of the history of ideas and of customs.

In the nineteenth century, the "English" clothing will be of rigor across Europe Filippo Palizzi, Hunting in the Neapolitan campaign, 1847 Private collection

In the nineteenth century, the “English” clothing
became de rigueur across Europe
Filippo Palizzi, Hunting in the Neapolitan campaign, 1847
Private collection

Beginning in the eighteenth century, a growing interest in English institutions spread in Europe. In a continent still dominated by absolutism, intellectuals, but also part of the nobility and, above all, the rising bourgeoisie, looked with curiosity and admiration to the English parliamentary monarchy. Already in 1215, the Magna Charta Libertatum imposed a number of significant limits to the power of the English sovereigns: they could not impose taxes at their own will, or imprison free people without the decision of a judge. Then, in 1689, the Bill of Rights sanctioned the freedom of speech and of debate in the Parliament. It established also that the king could not abolish laws or impose taxes without the consent of the Parliament, which should be elected with free elections. Principles that today may seem obvious, but that, at the time, were not obvious at all. In that context, the English institutions represented a beacon of democracy and modernity, to which the absolute regimes looked with suspicion and apprehension, as their principles ignited the imagination and passion of a growing number of European subjects. On the other hand, the greater freedom in England was matched with economic progress and soon Europeans began to be attracted not only by the English political institutions, but also by British literature, arts and by the corresponding British way of life. From clothing to food, from amusement to sports, England became a model of modernity to imitate.

James Seymour, Saltando il cancello (datazione ignota) Denver Museum - Berger Collection

In England the passion for racing and hunting
led to the selection of a new type of horse
James Seymour, Jumping the gate (date unknown)
Denver Museum – Berger Collection

Also riding was involved in this trend and indeed played a crucial role in spreading the “British fashion”. It should be noted that the differences with the continental way of life do not only relate to political institutions. In the domain of equestrian art, in fact, across the Channel different practices developed, which gradually began to spread in Europe. While the rest of the Continent was fond of the stylized riding exercises and of the baroque figure of Iberian horses, in England, as early as the seventeenth century, grew a passion for speed races and horse riding in the countryside. For these needs, in the late sixteenth century, began the slow selection of a new breed of horse: agile, spirited, fast. The Thoroughbred was less suited to the deliberate slowness of academic exercises, but was perfect to compete with the wind on the turf at Newmarket. This kind of horse was equally well-suited for chasing fox or deer over English estates, scattered with natural obstacles which had to be forded. Academic riding was also practiced in England (as testified by some beautiful drawings by John Vanderbank) but, over time, country riding and especially horse racing, became the distinctive features of the British equestrian world.

John Vanderbank, Volte Renversée a mano destra, 1728 © Tate Modern Gallery - Londra

Academic riding was also practiced in England
John Vanderbank, The Volte Renversée to the right, 1728
© Tate Modern Gallery – Londra

Horse racing was relatively widespread even on the continent. In Italy, for example, almost every town had its palio, but these competitions were very different from those that are held today at racetracks. In most cases, they took place within the city’s streets and very often the race was held between riderless horses (i.e. without jockey): as in the case of the Corsa dei Barberi that traditionally ended the Roman Carnival, or the Palio di S. Giovanni in Florence. These competitions were held during special occasions, and belonged to the same tradition of the ancient knightly trials.

David Allan, La mossa della Corsa dei Barberi a Roma, circa 1767-77 © Tate Modern Gallery - Londra

In continental Europe, horse racing
was very much different than in England
David Allan, The Start of the Race in the Corso, Rome, around 1767-77
© Tate Modern Gallery – London

It is in England that horse racing assumed the character of a modern sport, with the progressive specification of a set of rules regarding the age of the horses, the weight of the jockeys and the establishment of cash prizes for the winners. Already James I (1566-1625) led to the construction of the first racetracks at Newmarket and it was with Charles II (1630-185) that the most prestigious races were established: the King’s Plate and the Town Plate. In 1744, two more races, financed by local merchants and landowners, were established, with prizes of 50 guineas. Soon horse racing fostered a significant economy, both because of the prizes distributed and, above all, for the amount of the bets. In addition, it increased horse trading and promoted all the professions related to the care and maintenance of these animals, starting with that of the jockey. Later, horse races became social events in which members of the high society met and ladies and gentlemen showed off fashionable clothes and their beautiful coaches. The fame of these events, in which the luxury of high society and the trepidation of the competition mixed together, quickly spread across the continent and many fans began to go to England to buy horses (as in the case of the Italian poet Vittorio Alfieri, to whom we recently dedicated an article in two parts, which you can read by clicking on this link).

to read part 2 of this article, please click on this link ->

Horse racing soon became social events Peter Tillemans, Going to the Start for the King's Plate Newmarket Horse Race, 1725ca © Yale Center for British-Art - Paul Mellon Collection

Horse racing soon became social events
Peter Tillemans, Going to the Start for the King’s Plate Newmarket Horse Race, 1725ca
© Yale Center for British-Art – Paul Mellon Collection

Bibliography

GRAF, Arturo, L’anglomania e l’influsso inglese in Italia nel XVIII secolo, Torino, E. Loscher, 1911.

ROCHE, Daniel, La culture des apparences, Paris, Fayard, 1989 (Il linguaggio della moda. Alle origini dell’industria dell’abbigliamento, Torino, Einaudi, 1991)

ROCHE, Daniel, La gloire et la puissance. Histoire de la culture équestre XVIe-XIXe siècle, Paris, Fayard, 2011.

Snapshots of a medieval knight. Mastino II della Scala and the “a la brida” seat

Equestrian statue of Mastino II della Scala (before 1351) Civic Museum of Castelvecchio Verona - Italy

Equestrian statue of Mastino II della Scala (before 1351)
Civic Museum of Castelvecchio
Verona – Italy

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

When, in 1329, Mastino II della Scala inherited, along with his brother Alberto, the lordship of Verona from his uncle Cangrande, the good fortune of the Della Scala family was at its peak. Young and ambitious, Mastino II (1308-1351) wanted to further expand the domains of Verona, showing courage and valor, but not as much prudence and diplomatic skills as his predecessor. In fact, his lust of conquest caused alarm for the other Italian powers that joined forces against him and defeated him repeatedly. He finally managed to save his rule but, after ten years of being in power, his dominions were reduced only to Verona and Vicenza. At his death, in 1351, he was buried in a magnificent Gothic tomb in the funerary complex of the so-called “Arche Scaligere” (Scaligeri’s Tombs), next to the Church of Santa Maria Vecchia. The tomb is crowned by a famous equestrian statue, the original which has been preserved since 1986, in the Civic Museum of Castelvecchio in Verona (Italy).

The knight was armed with spear and shield

The knight was armed with spear and shield

The statue, made by an anonymous artist, around 1350, from a single block of limestone, portrays the lord and leader in the moment that precedes the attack in a duel. The knight is armed with spear and shield and protected by a hauberk, namely a tunic of metal mail, and by greaves, thigh-pieces, gloves and by a helmet surmounted by a winged mastiff. The horse is entirely covered by a voluminous damask caparison, on which the coat of arms of the Della Scala (a silver ladder in red field), is displayed both on the horse’s neck and cheeks. The headstall is topped by a helmet with a dog’s head similar to that of the rider.

He was protected by a hauberk, namely a tunic of metal mail, and by greaves, thigh-pieces and gloves

He was protected by a hauberk, namely a tunic of metal mail, and by greaves, thigh-pieces and gloves

The extreme realism and accuracy in the details of the statue gives us a chance to look closely at the seat of a medieval knight. In particular, it gives us the opportunity to see represented one of the horseback riding techniques which was typical at the time and that we find described in the book of the Portuguese king Dom Duarte (1391-1438), Livro da ensinança de bem cavalgar toda sela (a previous article of this blog is dedicated to the different riding techniques in use in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance: you can read it by simply clicking on the following link: “A la brida” and “a la gineta”).

The Della Scala's coat of arms was depicted on the horse's caparison, on the saddle and on the knight's surcoat

The Della Scala’s coat of arms was depicted on the horse’s caparison, on the saddle
and on the knight’s surcoat

Mastino II rides standing in the stirrups. His position is facilitated by a special type of saddle, with a high and wraparound cantle, into which the rider leans his gluteus, and by a massive saddle bow which supports him and also protects his belly and his legs in battle from the blows of his opponent. The rider’s legs are straight, with his feet brought slightly forward.

The saddle had a high and wraparound cantle and a massive saddle bow

The saddle had a massive saddle bow and a high and wraparound cantle

This is clearly one of the two techniques of the so-called “a la brida” style described by Dom Duarte. This way of riding a horse consisted exactly in keeping the legs stretched, but it was used in two different styles. One consisted in riding deeply seated, keeping the feet forward; the other style instead consisted in standing up in the stirrups, never sitting on the saddle. According to Dom Duarte, this second technique was older and, in fact, the statue of Mastino II precedes, by more or less seventy years, the book of the Portuguese king.

The rider mounts standing in the stirrups, leaning on the cantle

The knight rode standing in the stirrups
and leaning on the cantle

Looking at the profile of Mastino’s statue, we notice that the rider just grazes the seat and especially makes use of the support of the cantle and the stirrups. There is no trace of the strap, mentioned by Dom Duarte, with which some horsemen used to fasten the stirrups to each other under the horse’s belly, in order to prevent them from separating

The feet were kept parallel to the sides of the horse and slightly forward

The feet were kept parallel to the sides of the horse and slightly forward

The rider keeps his feet parallel to the sides of the horse to avoid accidentally hitting him with his long spurs. Given the position of the feet and the bulk determined by thigh-pieces and greaves, the contact with the sides of the animal was not easy at all. This explains the length of the spurs’ shanks, which today seem to us inconceivable.

We find the same seat of the rider in the equestrian tomb of Bernabò Visconti (1363) Museum of Ancient Art of the Sforzesco Castle Milan - Italy

We find the same seat of the rider in the equestrian tomb of Bernabò Visconti (1363)
Museum of Ancient Art of the Sforzesco Castle
Milan – Italy

We find the same kind of seat in the equestrian statue of Bernabò Visconti (1323-1385), who was lord of Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona, Soncino, Lonato and Valcamonica and ruled Milan with his brothers Matteo II and Galeazzo II, from 1354. It surmounts his tomb, now in the Museum of Ancient Art of the Sforzesco Castle in Milan, but in the past it was placed behind the main altar of the now demolished Church of San Giovanni in Conca. The work is, more or less, a decade later than that which portrays Mastino II. It was carved in 1363, by Bonino da Campione (1323-1397). It shows the condottiero mounted on a mighty courser. The seat of the rider is almost identical to that of the statue of Mastino II. He rides his horse in a standing position, leaning against the high cantle of the saddle and keeping his legs stretched out.

Details of the Bernabo Visconti's monument, taken from the book Society of Antiquaries of London, Archaeologia. Volume 18. London- Society of Antiquaries of London, 1817

Details of the Bernabo Visconti’s monument, taken from the book Society of Antiquaries of London, Archaeologia. Volume 18. London- Society of Antiquaries of London, 1817

Note that, in the Visconti monument also, the bit is precisely represented. The horse is harnessed with a kind of full cheek snaffle, with double reins. Probably the additional rein had only a safety function and was used just in case the main one got broken, or was cut during a duel, or in battle. In fact, it is simply kept on the horse’s neck and is buckled to the same ring as the other rein.

In the Visconti monument the horse is harnessed with a kind of full cheek snaffle, with double reins

In the Visconti monument the horse is harnessed
with a kind of full cheek snaffle, with double reins

The Scaligeri Tombs in Verona offer us a further testimony of the truthfulness of Dom Duarte’s description of the riding techniques in use in the late Middle Ages. Next to Mastino II’s tomb, just above the door of Santa Maria Antica, there is the tomb of his predecessor, Cangrande (1291-1329). Even in this tomb the sarcophagus is surmounted by an equestrian statue, whose original is preserved in the Castelvecchio Museum. Cangrande appears in an attitude much less martial than his nephew. He looks to be portrayed during a break, before or after a fight. He keeps the helmet fastened on his shoulders and shows a benevolent and smiling expression on his face. He sits deeply in the saddle, keeping his feet forward, up to the horse’s shoulders. His knees are almost stretched out.

Statue of Cangrande della Scala (about 1340) Museum of Castelvecchio Verona - Italy

Statue of Cangrande della Scala (about 1340)
Museum of Castelvecchio
Verona – Italy

Cangrande’s riding position is exactly the one described by Dom Duarte in the second chapter of the third part of his treatise. The different seat shown in the statue of Mastino II may induce us to think that knights adopted a standing position in the stirrups during fights in order to better manage the long spear, but they would sit on the saddle, with their feet forward, during travels and pageantries.

The statue of Cangrande shows the other type of seat of the

The statue of Cangrande shows the other type of seat of the “a la brida” style

It is certain that the sitting position, with feet and legs stretched forward, became the most used in the following two centuries by heavy cavalry. We find it in many equestrian portraits of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The position of the feet will be then gradually moved back to ensure a more effective and precise use of the lower aids with the advent of academic riding.

The tombs of Mastino II (left) and Cangrande (right) at Santa Maria Antica in Verona

The tombs of Mastino II (left) and Cangrande (right) at Santa Maria Antica in Verona

“Maneggi and jumps”. The basic exercises of Renaissance horsemanship (Part 3)

Biagio d’Antonio Tucci, The Triumph of Camillus (detail), 1470-1475,
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

In the late Middle Ages and during the Renaissance, horseback riding had a strong social importance. The horse held an essential symbolic function in defining the identity of the aristocratic classes and played a central role in most public events. With the horse’s strength and elegance and the splendor of his trappings, he contributed to make the nobility shine before common people during public cavalcades and feasts. Equitation was also an integral part of the rituals of the courts. It is no coincidence that some of the pages of the first equestrian treatise ever printed, Gli ordini di cavalcare (The Orders of riding 1550) by Federico Grisone, were devoted to how to present a horse in the presence of a prince or a king. On these occasions, as well as during the pageantry that preceded the fighting in jousts and tournaments, horses and riders performed exercises designed to show to the bystander the energy of the animal and the courage and skill of the rider. These exercises were primarily what today we call “school jumps” or “airs above the ground.”

In contrast to a fairly widespread belief, these exercises had an aesthetic, rather than military purpose. The authors of the sixteenth century, and later, are unanimous on this. According to Fiaschi, not only the “school jumps”, but even the “pesades” were dangerous for the combat horse because, when reared on his hind legs. the animal was in a vulnerable position with respect to the charge of any opponent.

… if you want to make some pesades, they should not be very high, because, besides that it would be ugly to see a horse who is accustomed  in this way, it would also be detrimental every time that he would behave like this while he’s given encounter, because he could be easily knocked to the ground. This is what I dislike of so many pesades, especially in a war-horse (Fiaschi, 1556, II, 5, p. 99).

In contrast to a fairly widespread belief, the school jumps  had an aesthetic, rather than military purpose. William Cavendish, duca di Newcastle, La methode et inuention nouvelle de dresser les cheuaux, 1658, tav. 30

In contrast to a fairly widespread belief, the school jumps
had an aesthetic, rather than military purpose.
William Cavendish, duke of Newcastle, La methode et invention
nouvelle de dresser les cheuaux, 1658, tav. 30

An opinion shared by Claudio Corte, author of Il cavallarizzo (The Horseman, 1562), according to whom the greatest risk was that, once trained to pesades and courbettes, the horse could perform them on it’s own initiative, to evade the control of the rider, leaving him exposed to the attacks of his opponents.

Young horses learn pesades easily, and once they have learned them they make them willingly, as they think that once they have done them they do not have to do anything else. For this reason if they are beaten with the spur they think they should not do anything else than stop and make a pesade. So they stop very often to rear against the will of the rider, and in a place where it is not required, and they do it even higher than what it is appropriate (CORTE, 1562, II, 15, p. 71r).

As many others Renaissance authors, Fiaschi and Corte
considered the pesades harmful to the war horse.
Antoine de Pluvinel, L’instruction du Roy en l’exercice de monter à cheval, 1625, figure 22

Even more explicit about the exclusively ludic purpose of the school jumps and about their harmfulness for war-horses is Pasquale Caracciolo, author of the monumental treatise La Gloria del cavallo (The glory of the horse, 1567). According to the Neapolitan writer and rider, training a horse to jumps, not only made ​​him beautiful to see, but at the same time it increased his agility and sensitivity to the aids. In any case, before the training he recommended to carefully assess the attitudes of the animal, which had to have specific qualities of strength and docility. However, Caracciolo considered it a serious mistake to train a war-horse to these exercises since, according to him, not only they did not produce any benefit in battle, but they could be rather harmful.

Maybe someone will consider useless and vain that a man toils to teach these jumps to his horse; but he is wrong, because in addition to the fact that a horse that goes swaying from jump to jump it is beautiful to see, certainly, by lightening his arms and legs through these exercises, he becomes more agile and more ready for all the other virtues that are required. Just as though the ball game is not in itself necessary to the Rider, it cannot, however, be denied that in addition to giving him some ornament, it is also very beneficial to train him to the use of weapons. One must first consider the size, ability, and the inclination of the animal, and when these things are adequate, it is out of doubt that teaching to their horses these exercises is useful and honorable to young people eager to stay well on saddle, and that by means of this discipline, the horses will become every day more agile and lighter, while maintaining temperance and the prescribed order. But the one who would train a very fast horse, or one particularly suited to war, to these jumps and exercises, would be a fool, because in military operations they would rather produce hindrance and damage instead of any benefit to the Rider, as we have already said before (CARACCIOLO, 1567, p. 426)

On the other hand, as Jean-Claude Barry, who for seventeen years was Ecuyer of the Cadre Noir and a leading expert in the work of the “jumpers”, explains well: “knowing the preparation and accuracy they require, it is difficult to imagine performing the airs above the ground during a clash in which rapidity and responsiveness are vital and in which any inaccurate or involuntary action of the rider may be misunderstood by the horse. Moreover the weight of the harness and of the knight in armor was a handicap for the steed restricting his agility “(Barry, 2005, p.26).

The cabriole is one of the most spectacular school jumps still practiced . Giovanni Battista Galiberto, Il cavallo da maneggio, 1650

The cabriole is one of the most spectacular school jumps still practiced .
Giovanni Battista Galiberto, Il cavallo da maneggio, 1650

The airs above the ground practiced at that time were slightly different from those still performed today in the great academies of classical equestrian art, like those of Vienna, Saumur, Jerez de la Frontera and Lisbon, which mainly refer to the codification of these exercises that took place in the eighteenth century. Unfortunately, the authors of the Renaissance treatises took it for granted that their readers knew the exercises they spoke about in their books and for this reason they did not dwell on in-depth and clear descriptions. Similarly, with the only exception of the treatise by Cesare Fiaschi, the works of the sixteenth century do not show significant illustrations that can clarify how the various exercises were performed. This makes it now more difficult to pinpoint the specific features of the different types of jumps that are mentioned in the works of the Renaissance masters. Therefore, in order to make the following description more explicit and precise we will refer to the plates from Fiaschi’s book, as well as to those published in later works, such as the one by the Duke of Newcastle, and as Il cavallo da maneggio (The manège horse), by the Neapolitan count Giovanni Battista Galiberto, colonel and master of riding in the service of King Ferdinand IV of Hungary and Bohemia.  Although the work was published in Vienna in 1650, exactly a century after that of Grisone, it clearly refers to the terminology and techniques of Renaissance Italian horsemanship.

Nuova immagine

The jumps practiced during the Renaissance differed slightly from those executed today
in the four major academies of Saumur, Lisbon, Jerez and Vienna

The first “air” mentioned in Fiaschi’s book is the so-called “galoppo raccolto” (collected canter). The author does not provide any description of this air, but noting the difficulty of explaining his execution, in words or with a design, he adds the score, specifying that “this measure and time should be respected if you want that the rider makes a group which is beautiful to see” (FIASCHI, 1556, II, 11, p. 114). With the verb “aggruppare” (to group) I think that the author means “perform jumps”, which in other texts are also called “groppi” (probably from “groppa” i.e. croup). Fiaschi says that to perform this exercise the rider must keep the horse collected, stimulating him with his calves and holding him rhythmically with the bridle, so that “he moves as much as he sways a little bit” (FIASCHI, 1556, II, 11, p. 114). Judging from this information and also from the accompanying illustration, it seems possible to identify the “galoppo raccolto” with what we now call terre à terre, a kind of two beat canter, in which the horse passes alternately from the front to the hind feet and that, since the eighteenth century, became the preparation air of all school jumps.

The

The “galoppo raccolto” (collected canter) mentioned by Fiaschi
corresponds to what nowadays we call “terre à terre”.
Cesare Fiaschi, Trattato dell’imbrigliare, atteggiare e ferrare cavalli, 1556

Another exercise mentioned by Fiaschi is the so-called “air with jumps and bounds” (“maneggio con salti a balzi”). It is difficult to understand how this exercise was performed. Pasquale Caracciolo talks about a jump called “balzotto” (little bound), but he does not explain what it was. According to Barry, this would be the one that was later called ballotade, a jump in which the horse jumps in a horizontal position and extends the hind legs, as if to kick, but not extending them completely. Indeed, the picture in Fiaschi’s book shows the horse with all four feet off the ground, but with the hind feet under his body.

Fiaschi

Today it’s hard to say what was the “air with jumps and bounds” mentioned by Fiaschi.
Cesare Fiaschi, Trattato dell’imbrigliare, atteggiare e ferrare cavalli, 1556

Several authors mentioned the so-called “a step and a jump” (“un passo e un salto”), which was also practiced in the version of  “two steps and a jump.” Claudio Corte (II, 19) says that was taught to horses by training them to jump pieces of cloth held, stretched by aides, on the ground, placed two or three steps away from each other. Practically, the horse had to jump every one or two canter strides. This exercise was also called “galoppo gagliardo” (vigorous canter).  From the description given by Claudio Corte, it seems that it was a sequence of jumps similar to the cabriole, interspersed with two or three strides of canter:

Do not think, for what I have said, that the cabriole and the step and a jump, or vigorous canter, are the same thing, because in the cabriole, as I already said, the jumps are made at every step, and a jump immediately follows the other, while in the vigorous canter it is not like this, but it goes two by two, or three by three, as the rider prefers: and the jumps are also always with kicks, while in that one [i.e. in the cabriole] the horse does not always kick, but he just can do it. It is more correct to say vigorous canter, rather than a step and a jump, because the jump is at the second and third step. (CORTE, 1562, II, 19, p. 74v)

The exercise of “a step and a jump”
was also called “vigorous canter”.
G. B. Galiberto, Il Cavallo da maneggio, 1650

A type of jump mentioned by all the books of that time is the “jump of the ram” (“salto a montone”), so called, says Pasquale Caracciolo, “because the horse jump in the same way in which the Rams jump” (CARACCIOLO 1567, p. 425 ). It is an exercise in which the horse jumps on the spot, kicking while he is off the ground and then comes back into the same position. According to Fiaschi, it was precisely this characteristic that distinguishes it from the “jumps and bounds”:

because when the horse makes the jump and bound, he pushes his waist forward, while doing the ram jump as it should, it is necessary that he falls straight in the place from where he lifts, going even higher (FIASCHI, 1556, II, 15, p. 122).

In the “ram jump” the horse kicked and fell back on the spot.
G.B. Galiberto, Il cavallo da maneggio, 1650

Finally, the most common jump is the so-called “capriola” (cabriole), the most spectacular of the airs above the ground still practiced. It consists of a jump in which the horse violently kicks when he is off the ground. According to Fiaschi, the cabriole differs from the ram jump because, in this case, when the horse jumps, he moves forward and does not fall in the same place. At that time, the horse kicked in the descending phase of the parable and landed on the front feet, while today generally he kicks at the height of the jump:

When you want to make the horse perform a cabriole jump or some jumps, which are so called because the goats [“capre” in Italian] jump in this way, you have to make him do as they do when they jump, that when they fall to the ground they raise their haunches (FIASCHI, 1556, II; 16, p. 124).

In the Sixteent century, in the cabriole, the horse kicked in the descending phase of the jump.
C. Fiaschi, Trattato dell’imbrigliare, atteggiare e ferrare cavalli, 1556

The “corvetta” (courbette) was also very popular. This is a school jump in which the horse raises the forelegs and then proceeds bounding on his hind legs. According to Corte, this characteristic movement would be at the origin of the name, since “we say corvetta from the raven [“corvo” in Italian], that when he is on the ground he goes forward with small bounds” (CORTE, 1562, II , 15, p . 72r ). It was considered a presentation air par excellence and was often performed during public cavalcades as an act of gallantry in the presence of ladies.

The

The “courbettes” were a very popular exercise which was often performed in public
as an act of gallantry in the presence of ladies.
William Cavendish, duca di Newcastle, La methode et invention
nouvelle de dresser les cheuaux, 1658, tav. 26

The horses were also trained at “kicking”, as a preparation for school jumps. It should be considered that this kind of training was also shared by war horses, which were induced to kick on command in the melee, as shown in a detail of the famous painting by Paolo Uccello, Bernardino della Ciarda unhorsed (1438-1440), in which a chestnut horse is portrayed in the act of kicking with his hind legs.

In the famous painting by Paolo Uccello, Bernardino della Ciarda unhorsed (1438-1440),
a chestnut horse is portrayed in the act of kicking.
Paolo Uccello, Battle of San Romano (1438-1440), Firenze, Museo degli Uffizi

Finally, as we already saw in another article (The Spanish walk; classic exercise or circus trick?), that between the presentation airs there was also what we now call “Spanish walk” and at that time was called “far ciambetta.”

This concise discussion of the presentation airs concludes our survey of the main exercises described, or mentioned, in the Italian equestrian treaties of the Renaissance (see the previous articles: Part 1 and Part 2). Obviously, this concise description does not purport to exhaustively represent the vast field of the equestrian practices of the time, but primarily aims to highlight some aspects that have remained unchanged over the centuries, as well as to point out some significant differences.

Bibliograhy

BARRY, Jean-Claude, Traité des Airs relevés, Paris, Belin, 2005.

BARRY, Jean-Claude, Les airs relevés et leur histoire, in AA.VV., Les Arts de l’équitation dans l’Europe de la Reinassance. VIIe colloque de l’Ecole nationale d’équitation au Chateau d’Oiron (4 et 5 octobre 2002), Arles, Actes Sud, 2009, pp. 183-196.

CARACCIOLO, Pasquale, Gloria del cavallo, Venezia, Gabriel Giolito de’ Ferrari, (in 4°), 1566.

CORTE, Claudio, Il Cavallarizzo, Venezia, Giordano Zilletti, 1562.

FIASCHI, Cesare, Trattato dell’imbrigliare, atteggiare e ferrare cavalli, Bologna, Anselmo Giaccarelli, 1556.

GALIBERTO, Giovanni Battista, Il cavallo da maneggio, ove si tratta della nobilissima virtù del..,Vienna, Giacomo Kyrneri, 1650.

“Maneggi and jumps”. The basic exercises of Renaissance horsemanship (Part 2)

Benozzo Gozzoli, Chapel of the Magi, detail of the est wall, Palazzo Medici- Ricciardi, Florence, 1459

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

At the beginning of the second part of his Trattato dell’imbrigliare, atteggiare e ferrare cavalli (Treatise on bridling, training and shoeing horses, 1556), Cesare Fiaschi explicitly states his intention of codifying the equestrian art of his time, setting the rule for the proper execution of the different “maneggi”. A rule which, in the author’s intention, served also to safeguard those who applied it from the criticisms of the many riders who at that time, rode without due accuracy.

In this second part of the treatise I intend with my speech not only to set the standard for the handling of horses, but also to expose by means of designs some acts of riders on horseback and their horse tracks [indicating the position of the hooves of the horse on the ground] and the time in Music of some exercises so that no one can be blamed every time that he performs them if following these instructions. Since I have seen many [riders], both in the past and now that do not aspire to do what they entirely ought to do with the horse, I feel pressed to undertake this effort, and also because I know that currently some, for the reason of not being made aware, incur in many errors […] but no one should disdain to accept my opinion, given that if he shall proceed as indicated in this treatise, and by means of drawings and Music, he will be honored, without fear of being considered ignorant, because with the living reasons in the hands he will shut the mouth of those who dare to contradict him. (FIASCHI, 1556, II, 1, pp. 87-88)

The part of  Fiaschi’s treatise specifically dedicated to horse riding can, in fact, be considered as a canon of the different exercises performed with a horse which has already been perfectly trained. However, the author says very little on how the animals were prepared to perform these refined movements.

The works by Grisone and Corte were reprinted many times during the sixteenth
and seventeenth centuries
Frontispieces of the 1551 edition of the “Ordini” and of the 1573 Lyon edition of “Il cavallarizzo”

From the point of view of horse training techniques during the Renaissance, two other fundamental texts of the sixteenth century are more interesting. Namely, Gli ordini di cavalcare (The orders of riding, 1550) by Federico Grisone, a kind of real manual for the training of the horse “to the use of war,” and Il cavallarizzo (The Horseman, 1562) by Claudio Corte, one of the most refined and innovative works among those devoted to the equestrian art in the sixteenth century.

According to Grisone, the horse had to be tamed when he was at least three years old. The training was rather quick and lasted an average of four to six months. Grisone suggested that the horse be ridden initially on a plowed field, where other horses have made a track. In this way, the author argued,  the horse was induced to follow a correct path, avoiding the trouble of walking on loose soil. With the progress of the training, a shallow ditch could be used in order to force him to follow an even more rigorous path.

Grisone suggests using a shallow ditch to induce the horse
to follow a more rigorous path while performing the passade.
Pierre de la Noue, La Cavalerie françoise et italienne, 1620

According to the Neapolitan author, the so-called “torni” were essential to prepare the horse to perform the “maneggi”. They consisted in making two circles (“volte”) to the right and then, two circles to the left, followed by going along a straight line (“repolone”) after which the horse had to be stopped performing some pesades (“posate). Then, when the horse was “quiet and proper”, he had to make two narrow voltes to the right, then two to the left. With the progress of the training, the rider had to have the horse perform one or two pirouettes (which Fiaschi and Grisone call “doubling”- raddoppio – or “doubled voltes” – volte raddoppiate). Finally, the animal was led back on the straight line and “went out” of the “torni”. The exercise was performed initially at the trot and then, in a more advanced stage of the training, at the canter.

This is the form of the “torni” offered by me, with some written words, by which, and also for what I said before, will be easily understood. By the way in which they are illustrated, you can see how different they are from the ancient turns, which, a few years ago, were done between the trees and in the countryside, and were done wider and with no measure of number or width, changing place and not as methodically as today. (GRISONE, 1550, II, p. 54r-54v)

Diagram of the so-called

Diagram of the so-called “torni”, the basic exercise to prepare the horse to the “maneggi,” according to Grisone

The “torni” were used to train the horse to find his balance under the weight of the rider, in order to teach him how to run the repolone (or passade), stopping after the charge and turning on his haunches, and cantering again in the opposite direction.

To help the horse to become accustomed to facing battle on any kind of soil, Grisone also suggested placeing stones on the path. The author insisted on the importance of training the horse to stop straight, perhaps even with the help of a man on the ground who put him into frame with a stick. For the same purpose, he considered it useful to rein back. At the first stage of the training, the horse was mounted with a cavesson and a curb bit. Then, when he was already trained at a trot, Grisone suggested to take away the cavesson and to use the so-called false-reins, namely additional reins which were secured to special rings on the bit’s shanks, at the ends of the mouthpiece. The bridle then functioned like a pelham bit (1). This use was harshly criticized by Fiaschi, who considered it harmful to the horse.

The pesade was considered essential to accustom the horse to stop carrying his weight on the hind legs.
Giovanni Battista Galiberto, Il cavallo da maneggio, 1650

Soon the horse was taught the “pesade” (posata), that is to say to bring his hind legs under his body, lowering his hips and lightening the front legs so as to lift them from the ground. This technique made ​​it possible to collect the horse to the extreme, making him capable of a rapid change of direction at the end of the “repolone”. It was also a spectacular exercise which was used as a presentation air.

Compared to Grisone’s book, the work of Claudio Corte introduces various other training exercises, the most part of which are still used today, even if with slight differences. Clearly, these were not invented by Corte, but he had the merit to explain them in his treatise, consolidating their use.

Corte proposed an updated scheme
of Girsone’s “torni,”
which he called “rote”
Claudio Corte, Il Cavallarizzo, 1562

According to Corte, the starting point of the training is the work on the circles. Therefore, he proposed an updated scheme of Grisone’s “torni”, which he calls “rote” (“wheels”). The difference between the two exercises is that, after covering the straight line, the horse had to turn on three contiguous circles with a diameter of 8-12 meters(26-39 feet), then he had to come back on the same straight path, after which he had to turn on three smaller circles (of about 6-9 feet in diameter).

Claudio Corte, Il cavallarizzo, 1562

According to Corte, the exercise of the “caragolo” was the most effective
to make the horse supple and obedient.
Claudio Corte, Il cavallarizzo, 1562

After confirming the horse in this exercise, Corte suggested to start him to another one: the so-called “caragolo” (from the Spanish “caracol”, i.e. snail). It was about performing a spiral then, after covering a repolone, performing another one in the opposite direction. Corte considered this the most important and effective exercise, capable of producing the same benefits of the work on the “rote” (circles), but allowing the horse to become more agile in a shorter time. After a certain amount of training, the horse had to perform it also at the canter. According to Corte, at that point, the exercise also assumed a significant aesthetic value, demonstrating the docility and the smoothness acquired by the horse and the skill of the rider.

Training the horse to the so-called “esse serrato” (tight S)
served to prepare him for the “repolone.”
Claudio Corte, Il cavallarizzo,1562

Another innovative exercise is what Corte called “esse serrato” (tight S). It was a path in the form of a figure eight, from which the rider comes up with a repolone, stopping the horse on the straight line. The author recommended performing it initially on a wider path, which was gradually reduced as the horse became accustomed and more dexterous in turning. Among other things, it was considered a prerequisite to the repolone (i.e. to the passade).

Curiously, Corte argued that the most generous and noble horses were pleased to perform the serpentine.
Claudio Corte, Il Cavallarizzo, 1562

Finally, the last exercise introduced by Corte was what he called “to snake” (“serpeggiare”), i.e. the serpentine. It was, he said, a kind of training suited to promote the balance of the horse and his obedience to the bit and to the legs. The author considered it also useful to avoid firearms shots in battles and, argued that horses, especially the most generous and noble, were pleased to do it. He added that, unfortunately this exercise was generally neglected in the riding schools, where courbettes and pesades were mainly taught.

The “Passade” remains the fundamental exercise for mounted combat
until the eighteenth century.
WIlliam Cavendish, duca di Newcastle, La methode et invention nouvelle de dresser les chevaux, 1658, Tav. 21

Corte was also the first author to mention the use of the work in-hand, with the rider on the ground who guides the horse with the reins. Over time, this way of training the horse would subsequently have a remarkable development, being used to teach the horse the different exercises of dressage without the hindrance of the weight of the rider. Corte recommended it for training the horse to rein-back. If the animal resisted the aids of the rider, he had to dismount and, taking in each hand the reins of the cavesson, he had to push the horse “pleasantly” back until he understood what he had to do. As soon as the horse took a few steps back, the rider had to get back in saddle and ask the horse to rein-back. If again he resisted, the rider had to repeat the exercise from the ground: “that you have to be very sure that doing so in two or three mornings, and even in less than an hour, you will have him at this” (CORTE, 1562, II, 8, p. 66v).

to be continued

to read  the continuation of this article, please click here -> part three

(1) Grisone and the other Renaissance authors do not describe the false-reins, but we find their description in later editions of the treatise by the Duke of Newcastle: “To work Horses with false Reins, is very false working, for, being tied to the Arches of the Bitt, and pulling it, that flacks the Curb: and so no Horse shall be firm and settled with it, for, that Horse that doth not suffer the Curb, shall never be a ready-horse; so it makes the Bitt like a Snaffle” (I quote from the English edition: William Cavendish (Duke of Newcastle), A New Method and Extraordinary Invention to Dress Horses, etc, Dublin, James Kelburn, 1740, p. 277). I owe this information to Michael Stevens, who has friendlily pointed out an inaccuracy in the first version of my article. Having such attentive and competent readers is a privilege and an honor to me.

Bibliography

CORTE, Claudio, Il Cavallarizzo, Venezia, Giordano Zilletti, 1562.

FIASCHI, Cesare, Trattato dell’imbrigliare, atteggiare e ferrare cavalli, Bologna, Anselmo Giaccarelli, 1556

GRISONE, Federico, Gli ordini di cavalcare, Napoli, stampato da Giovan Paolo Suganappo, 1550.