The Selene Horse Cast
One of the most famous and popular plaster casts during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is the beautiful Horse Head of the chariot of Selene. This artwork of the fifth century b.C. by Phidias, located on the west pediment, is one of the most loved sculpture of the Parthenon and greek sculpture.
Most of the sculptures of the Parthenon are now in London, taken at the beginning of the nineteenth century by Lord Elgin from which they take their name as the Elgin Marbles. The conditions imposed by the greek government, during the removal of the marbles, allowed Lord Elgin to build scaffolding, to make drawings and plaster casts of each piece. It is not known who was the author of the first casts since the Elgin Marbles (which belongs to the head) were taken in Athens and brought to England. Perhaps the italian Pier Angelo Sarti, mould maker of the British Museum which is known to make some casts of the Elgin Marbles for the king of France. Or the italian mold maker, also in the British Museum, Louis Brucciani (1786-1846) father of the most famous Domenico Brucciani.
In a very short time the cast of the horse head is widespread in most of the European and American academies and casts collections.
There are now different versions of the same cast and is very interesting, I think, to compare them with each other.
Various casts of the head, in addition to the quality of the surfaces which depended on the quality of the mould, differ in the position of the head itself. The tympanum of the Parthenon the horse’s head protrudes with its snout from the supporting surface, in this way the nose turns out to be the most protruding lower relative to the bearing surface of the neck. In use of the cast of the head can not be resting without using a base. Each workshop has solved this problem in different ways, often positioning the head incorrectly than the original. In some cases have been inserted bases of classic design, in other cases the location was incorrect also the axis of the depth.
right: The plaster cast of the Horse of Selene from the P.P. Caproni & Bro, Catalogue of Casts, 1911. Boston. Also this cast has a wrong base.
The original marble horse head on the west pediment of the Parthenon
Then it’s ver interesting take a look at all the interpretations on the study drawing of artists and students along the centuries. Drawings shows the horse head sometimes in the wrong position just referring to the cast used in the drawing session.
Head of Horse, after the Parthenon. Eugène Delacroix, ink and chalk on paper, 1825. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Head of the Horse of Selene, Benjamin Robert Haydon, black and white chalk on paper, 1809. British Museum, London.
Plates form the famous manual for art students: Charles Bragues with collaboration of Jean Léon Gérome: Drawing Course, Paris 1860-70.