The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius is an ancient Roman equestrian statue on Capitoline Hill, Rome, Italy. Made of bronze, it stands 4.24 m (13.9 ft) tall. The original is on exhibit in the Capitoline Museums. Standing in the open air of the Piazza del Campidoglio is a replica made in 1981, the year in which the original was taken down for restoration.
The overall theme is one of power and divine grandeur—the emperor is over life-size and extends his hand in a gesture of adlocutio used by emperors when addressing their troops.
Some historians claim that a defeated enemy was initially part of the sculpture. This image was meant to display the Emperor as victorious and all-conquering. But the statue without weapons or armor portrays Marcus Aurelius as an emperor bringing peace rather than a military hero.
No stirrups in the statue because it was not yet introduced to the West. The saddle cloth is actually Sarmatian in origin, indicating that the horse is a Sarmatian horse and that the statue was created to honor the victory over the Sarmatians by Marcus Aurelius, after which he assumed “Sarmaticus” to his name.
History of Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius
The statue was erected around 175 AD. The original location is debated: the Roman Forum and Piazza Colonna (where the Column of Marcus Aurelius stands) have been suggested. Notably, the site where it had originally stood had been transformed into a vineyard during the early Middle Ages.
There were many equestrian imperial statues but many of them did not survive due to a common practice of melting the bronze statues to mint coins. Certainly, it is one of only two surviving bronze statues of a pre-Christian Roman emperor; the Regisole, destroyed after the French Revolution, may have been another.
Misidentification of Statue
The equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome owes its preservation on the Campidoglio to the famous misidentification of Marcus Aurelius, the philosopher-emperor, with Constantine the Great, the Christian emperor.
It has been speculated that its misidentification stems from the prior existence of an equestrian statue of Constantine which had stood beside the Arch of Septimius Severus, and which had been most likely taken on the orders of the emperor Constans II during his visit to Rome in 663. With its removal, the people eventually mistakenly identified Marcus Aurelius’s statue for Constantine’s one.
Identification and Relocation
In the 8th century, it stood in the Campus Lateranensis, to the east of the Lateran Palace in Rome, sitting on a pedestal that was later provided by Sixtus IV. Its placement next to the Lateran Palace was due to the fact that this site used to contain the house of Marcus Aurelius’s grandfather Marcus Annius Verus, which was where the Emperor’s birth and early education took place.
From here it was relocated in 1538, by order of Pope Paul III to remove it from the main traffic of the square. It was moved to the Piazza del Campidoglio (Capitoline Hill) during Michelangelo‘s redesign of the Hill. Though he disagreed with its central positioning, he designed a special pedestal for it. The original is on display in the Palazzo dei Conservatori of the Musei Capitolini, while a replica has replaced it in the square.
On the night of November 29, 1849, at the inception of the revolutionary Roman Republic, a mass procession set up the Red-White-Green Tricolore (now Flag of Italy, then a new and highly “subversive” flag) in the hands of the mounted Marcus Aurelius.
In 1979, a bomb attack in the nearby Palazzo Senatorio damaged the statue’s marble base.
Numerous sculptural works have been influenced by the Equestrian Statue. The equestrian statue of King George III of Great Britain, standing in New York City’s Bowling Green until 1776 was based upon the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius. Richard Westmacott modeled later statues of King George III on the Equestrian Statue.
Sculptor Jacques Saly modeled his 1768 Equestrian statue of Frederick V in Copenhagen, Denmark upon that of Marcus Aurelius.
Bertel Thorvaldsen’s modeled statue – The Monument to Prince Józef Poniatowski in Warsaw – was based on this statue.
Before producing The Messenger, Sculptor David Wynne visited Rome to see the statue.
Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius – Replicas
In 1981, the work of producing a replica of the statue began. It was for outdoor display. Digital images were used for references and laser beams were used to measure accurately. Conservators used this copy to cast a faithful bronze replica of the statue, which is currently displayed in the Campidoglio.
>>> Read about Death of Marcus Aurelius