Research Stream


Siobhan Hodge (2017)
The University of Western Australia

Equine Emotions and Boundaries of the Sublime: Equestrian Poetry and Art 1600–1800

This project will examine the implications of blurring boundaries between humans and horses, in depictions of these animals produced in Europe between 16001800. Emotional linkages between horses and humans in poetic and artistic works, and their potential symbolic and social impacts alike, will be explored.

S Hodge research image.jpg

Paintings and poetry produced in Europe 1600‒1800 increasingly blur boundaries between the human and equine, linking experiences and emotions. Baroque artworks produced by painters such as Rubens, Van Dyke and Velazquez focused not only on the wealth of their patrons, depicted as richly adorned on horseback, but also mirrored this excess in their opulent and biomechanically unrealistic depictions of the horses. Conversely, Caravaggio’s emotive ‘Conversion of St Paul’ is dominated by the submissive form of a piebald horse, echoing the saint. George Stubbs’ burgeoning realism and sensitivity in his equine portraits heralds another step in this evolution of human/horse hybridity.

Poetic explorations of horses also increasingly moved towards this sympathetic, even humanised approach. Byron, Macaulay, Norton and Wordsworth are some of only a few poets who demonstrate a heightened sense of sympathy towards equine figures, but also link these with more quintessentially human emotional states. Horses in poetry and art become not only an avatar of human emotions, but complex hybrid figures that are simultaneously sublime and quotidian, wild and domestic, untameable and broken. Ironies of the horse’s body in art and poetry are multitudinous, and can often be linked with the anxieties of its producers. The result is a complex layering of voices and social agendas, as human-like emotions of the animal assign value and meaning. The boundaries between the human and animal are not always distinct, leading to questions about ‘otherness’ and the abject, which are complicated by the emotional resonance of horses in many early creative works.

Image: Photo taken by Siobhan Hodge at Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The death of Hippolytus, Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577‒1640).