The Modern Leonardo da Vinci's Horse

In 1979, Charles Dent, a retired airline pilot read a National Geographic article entitled, ”The Horse That Never Was” the nearly 500 year old story of Leonardo’s destroyed colossal masterpiece. Inspired, Dent decided to “give Leonardo his Horse” by sculpting a suitable 24’ monument to Leonardo’s genius. He created the Leonardo da Vinci’s Horse, Inc. and consulted with art historians on the possibility of making a sculpture using Leonardo’s drawings and writings. The resulting life-sized clay model created by Dent and his friends was called “Charlie’s Horse.” Unfortunately, the sculpture was never completed, Dent died in the winter of 1994.

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By the summer of 1996, Dent’s sculpture had been enlarged to 24' tall in a cement-like and clay material by Tallix art foundry in Beacon, New York. This rough preliminary work appeared on the front page of the New York Times. Shortly after, the foundry was overwhelmed by the media and press.

At the same time, a few people involved with the project and figurative sculptors working at the site noticed that the sculpture had proportional and anatomical problems. It was apparent that changes had to be made. Consequently, Nina Akamu was hired to modify and improve the sculpture.

During this time, Fred Meijer, owner of Meijer stores saw the article in the NY times. Upon learning that Nina Akamu would be making corrections to the flawed model, he and his advisors expressed strong interest in seeing the final results.

As each improvement was made on the plaster model, the less of Charlie’s Horse remained. After 4 frustrating months, the Board of Directors agreed that the anatomical changes were insurmountable, and the process too costly. It was an emotionally difficult time for LDVHI. Subsequently, Dent’s original model and the 24’ enlargement were entirely destroyed.

Charles Dent’s sculpture was destroyed, but his dream continued. A new chapter began with the critical financial sponsorship of Fred Meijer. With his support, Nina started an entirely new sculpture for LDVHI in the spring of 1997. It was a challenging task.

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From the beginning of the project in the foundry, the help and support of Greg Glasson, Tallix Special Project Manager and Rod Skidmore, Artistic Director of LDVHI were invaluable. Technical input from a Sculptor’s Advisory Committee was also useful during the early stages of the project.

Leonardo’s numerous equine studies, manuscripts on the Sforza monument, specific scholarly writings, equine anatomy and other subject matter (see Artist’s Statement) were studied. Akamu’s years of living and studying in Italy were critical for this creation.

During this period, seven assistant sculptors were hired to transfer precise measurements from the finished model to the 2 ½ story rough clay enlargement. Nina’s innovative approach devised a specific enlarging technique using a laser pointer as well as a communication system for the assistants. This novel concept was critical during the enlarging process. The creation of the life-sized clay model, the clay enlargement and the finished bronzes within the foundry took almost three years and involved approximately 60 artisans.

The 24’ finished bronze sculpture was put on public display on the grounds of Tallix foundry for the weekend prior to its being flown to Italy. Over 60,000 people arrived inundating the small town and creating a massive five mile traffic jam.

6San Siro Milan
On September 10, 1999, exactly 500 years to the date after the destruction of Leonardo da Vinci’s colossal horse, the modern tribute to Leonardo “Il Cavallo” was dedicated in Milan, Italy. One month later, the 24’ tall “American Horse” was dedicated at the Frederik Meijer Sculpture Garden in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Milan considers the subject of Leonardo very seriously. In fact, he is an icon of the city. Leonardo moved from Florence where he was trained as a young artist to the city of Milan at the age of thirty. Living there for more than twenty years, he accomplished the majority of his mature work which includes his studies of anatomy, town planning, optics, hydraulic engineering and paintings including The Last Supper. It was also in Milan where he worked on his plans for Il Cavallo for a total of 17 years.

In the fall of 2005, the national newspaper Corriere della Sera printed a statement by LDVHI regarding the neglected condition of the sculpture and its placement on the periphery of the city. These comments became a veritable catalyst for a series of lively articles as Milanese politicians, art critics, writers, historians and citizens commented and debated on the importance of the sculpture to the city as a city icon and tourist attraction. As part of the debate and interest in Il Cavallo, an article appeared in the Corriere della Sera written by Dr. Carlo Pedretti the leading Leonardo scholar; an excerpt follows:

Today, this colossus is encumbered
because it is not installed where it should be,
it is a splendid symbol
not only for the way it strikes the eye,
but one associates it with the category
of mastery that astonishes,
and it refers to supreme examples of antiquity.

For the next year and a half there were ongoing discussions proposing numerous sites.

In March 2007, the city of Milan made an official announcement that it will move Il Cavallo from the racetrack to the park grounds at the Sforza Castle in the center of the city. The Sforza castle is where Leonardo originally intended the sculpture to be placed.

The newspapers have reported that plans are being made to move the 24’ sculpture in an upright position at night. It will be illuminated and will travel at 2-3 miles an hour through the center of the city using the large roads which are cleared of overhead electrical lines. A precise date for the move and dedication have not yet been determined


© Nina Akamu 2007