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.