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Hold your horses

Usually images come to me from compelling instances when I see something which seems charismatic. However this one is a confection, not based on any experience by derived from reading into ancient history and recollections of work by great artists. I wanted to see if I could extend my exploration of simplified form into recognisable figures which carried cultural identifiers, here the way the horses are harnessed to the yoke. The challenge I am working on is how much"detail" to include.

The two horses and the charioteer provide the three narrative elements about the chariot. This is a two horse biga that emerged when horses started to be used to pull wheeled vehicles and the spoked wheel made the light battle car possible. You can see them in ancient Egyptian murals of Pharaohs fighting and hunting and on Greek pottery showing gods and heroes. The horses were not big enough to carry a horseback fighter so chariots carried a driver and spearman into battle. After cavalry came to be used chariots were no longer fighting platforms and the four horse quadriga emerged for racing, Sometimes biga were used by the nobles for display and there would be no fighter, just a driver. The horses' head stalls would carry plumes.

That is the story behind my choice of chariot to work with. For me it was the triad that determined there should just be the one human with two horses. I read that the driver knelt in the car, so that was my excuse for grouping the heads as I have done, rather than having a standing figure such as you see over the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. That would have changed the proportions of the horses, making them less dominant. With this rig the horses and driver dominate the image and a lot of extraneous detail could be left out.

I decided to show an unmatched pair so I could vary their body colour and to avoid complete symmetry in their postures. I could have bathhouses pulling outwards and away from each other but decided to echo rather than reflect their stances. I started by drawing ou the left hand horse as my point of departure. then made the righthand one as a variant. After I had painted them I realised the head of the one on the right carries overtones of the horse of Selene from the Parthenon. That was not planned, just serendipity.

The swirling dust comes from Delacroix - Liberty storming the barricades - and the helmet is my rendering of a Corinthian helmet which is almost certainly an anachronism as bronze helmets belong to a time when the horses had been bred larger and there was actual cavalry. It allows me to make the charioteer's face an anonymous shadowy mask where even his eyes are in shade.

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