Digging History

Rare horse and rider statue based on da Vinci model goes on show

A rare sculpture of a horse and rider, based on a beeswax model made by Leonard da Vinci, has embarked on a world tour. Fox News' Amy Kellogg reports from Milan

 

It has been an extraordinary journey across time, and even an ocean, for one weary renaissance horse and rider. And for lovers of Leonardo da Vinci, their journey also now continues.  There is another masterpiece to seek out and behold. But catch it if you can!  Because it won't sit still.

The artist from the town of Vinci, Italy, known most famously, for his paintings, “The Mona Lisa” and “The Last Supper,” produced so much more.

"Before Leonardo was an artist, he was a sculptor, and that's where he actually got his training, as a sculptor," said Rod Maly, a Las Vegas-based art dealer who owns a rare statue that ultimately derives from the hands of Leonardo.  “And it's a remarkable story about how we have it," he added.

The small bronze of a horse and rider is now making its way around the world.  It was cast from a beeswax model attributed to Leonardo, created in the early 1500's, but that, as far as experts know, was never made into a statue.  The rider was thought to be the French governor of Milan at that time, Charles d'Amboise.

Leonardo was cast out from his native Tuscany, one common legend goes, because he was homosexual, which was illegal in those days. He presented himself as a jack-of-all-trades to the Duke of the rival region of Milan. His resume listed in great detail his skills as an arms designer. Only at the very end of his resume, did he mention that in times of peace, he could also paint and decorate.  And there was so much more.

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Maly told Fox News, "He was so far ahead of his time.  He was the inventor of the diving suit, the helicopter (at least the original prototype), the machine gun.  Much of his time was spent as an inventor, a medical man."

Leonardo's crowning achievement in Milan turned out, in fact, to be a painting, the skill he flogged least. “The Last Supper,” a fresco the Duke commissioned him to paint in the refectory of a monastery in what is now central Milan, draws enormous crowds, day after day. Shortly after he completed “The Last Supper,” toward the end of the 1400's, the French invaded, and Leonardo fled.  But he eventually returned to Milan, this time at the invitation of the French.

After his death, his belongings were left to his assistant and companion, Francesco Melzi.  Among the works bequeathed, that beeswax model for what is believed was meant to be a monument to Charles D'Amboise.

Deteriorating over time, it passed from relatives of its inheritor, to descendants, and went from one private collection to another, to Switzerland for safekeeping during World War II.  In 1985, a British arts and antiques dealer bought it from the Swiss man whose family had acquired it from the Melzi collection.  It was Leonardo scholar Carlo Pedretti, who led the drive to identify the wax work as a true Leonardo, who ultimately convinced the British dealer to buy it.  This was after Pedretti got photos of it published in a book of Leonardo sketches owned by Queen Elizabeth, upping the profile of the fast-deteriorating work of art.

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In 1985, a mold of the compromised beeswax model was made, in order to preserve some legacy.  By now, the haggard horse was missing a leg, and the rider-his hands and feet.  In the late 80's an Indiana businessman bought the beeswax model and the latex mold. Some 25 years later, the bronze was cast, in Burbank, California.  Maly and his business partner Jim Petty bought the mold and bronze for an undisclosed sum.

Maly said, "This is remarkable, because we have been able to take a piece of history and preserve it.  Nothing like that has ever been done before. This was a piece of beeswax in 1985, and there was a mold of latex made to preserve it for eternity, and we have the original from that latex mold."

Its new home is a vault in Las Vegas. But The Horse and Rider have been let loose for a world tour.  Maly is thrilled to show off this relatively unknown connection to the great genius, whose gifts he describes with great emotion.

"Why is the Mona Lisa the most revered artwork in the world? Why is the portrait of a relatively normal renaissance woman the most revered artwork in the world? It's magic," he said. "It's because there are things within our psyche, within the universe, that we don't understand, and Leonardo tapped into that, in all his artworks, and that is why he is a great artist."

And The Horse and Rider are now charging around to spread the message that Leonardo was also an important sculptor.

The statue is at the Institut Francais in Milan until Dec. 23rd.  

Amy Kellogg currently serves as a Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent based in Milan, Italy. She joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in 1999 as a Moscow-based correspondent. Follow her on Twitter: @amykelloggfox