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Unknown Artist : “A Dappled Gray Stallion Tethered in a Landscape” (late 16th century)

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In this meticulously executed drawing, a light gray stallion with dappled markings stands tethered to a tree stump in the midst of a verdant landscape. The well-groomed horse appears calm yet aware of the viewer, as if posing for its portrait.

Many finely executed details in this drawing command the viewer’s attention: not only the animal’s direct gaze, but also its textured mane and tail, the carefully tied knot of the bridle, the dappled pattern on its hind quarters, the small nails embedded in its shoes. And in the landscape: white clouds, undulating green hills, and distinctive elements such as a stream, tree stump, and roads.

It is quite likely that the same aristocratic person who once proudly owned the stallion also commissioned this drawing. Two similar depictions of magnificent horses in other collections appear to be created by the same as-yet-unknown artist, presumably for the same patron. Small stitching holes in the sheets suggest that they were once bound together in an album. And even the medium used, gouache on vellum — in addition to the fine painting style — reflects a tradition of manuscript illumination.

Evidence points to the possibility that the drawings’ patron was Moravian Baron Jan Sembera of Bucovice and that the highly accomplished artist was associated with the court of Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II in Prague. The horse itself offers a hint, resembling the Lipizzan breed prized by Renaissance aristocrats associated with the imperial Habsburg court.

(Text courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program, CC BY 4.0).

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