The great horse that never was

Sculpture: Da Vinci envisioned the 24-foot bronze statue, but it was never created. Now, an American effort has seen it through and is giving it to Italy.

June 24, 1999|By Dennis Yusko | Dennis Yusko,ALBANY TIMES UNION

Art and history will collide in two weeks when an exact replica of a 24-foot bronze horse envisioned by Leonardo da Vinci is donated to Italy.

The 15-ton "horse that never was," created at the Tallix Art Foundry in Beacon, N.Y., is a goodwill gesture and tribute to da Vinci, said Rod Skidmore, the project's artistic director.

Skidmore estimates the cost of building the horse at over $6 million -- most of which came from American donors.

Da Vinci, the legendary Renaissance artist, was commissioned in 1482 to design and build the largest equestrian statue in the world. He worked on the project 16 years and a full-scale model was waiting to be cast in bronze when French troops invaded Milan.

In 1499, the model was destroyed by occupying French troops, who used the horse for archery practice. History has it that da Vinci lamented the loss of "Il Cavallo" all the way to his deathbed.

On Sept. 10, 500 years later, the American-made statue is scheduled to be unveiled in a new cultural park in Milan being constructed for the horse.

Official acceptance of the gift by Milan Mayor Gabriele Albertini came last year.

"Italians are thrilled with it," said Skidmore, 65, an 18-year veteran of the project who has been in Italy twice in the last year organizing preparations for shipping the statue.

Alitalia, Italy's national airline, has volunteered to ship The Horse in separate crates to Italy during the first week of July. Before it is shipped, a public open house was planned in this Dutchess County community.

"The interest astounds me," said Milan Kralik Jr., spokesman and trustee of the Leonardo da Vinci Horse Inc. of Pennsylvania, the organization responsible for "Il Cavallo," The Horse.

"I attribute it to the uniqueness of the project -- it's the first time in history anybody's built a bronze horse this big," said Kralik, who has worked on the project nine years.

"Also, it's the pure altruism of the gift; it's just a gift; a thank you, like the Statue of Liberty was," Kralik said.

"All 60 pieces of the horse have been welded together into seven sub-sections, which have been assembled into a full-standing horse," Kralik said.

The statue is the largest of its kind in the world and is the product of a 22-year-old inspiration.

Da Vinci's horse drawings were rediscovered in 1965 in the National Library of Madrid, and National Geographic wrote a cover article on the horse.

In 1977, Charles Dent, a retired airline pilot from Fogelsville, Pa., came across the article. Dent, an artist and art collector who had a passion for Renaissance art, became so engrossed in the horse that he dedicated the rest of his life to building one. He died in 1994.

"Charlie was a great, great fellow, and my wife's brother, but he couldn't ask people for money," said Roger Enloe, now president of the board for the Leonardo da Vinci Horse organization. "So I started helping him."

The horse's master 24-foot clay model was completed by sculptor Nina Akamu and her team of seven assistants in August 1998. The casting, done one piece at a time, used both the sand mold process and the lost wax process.

Most sections were approximately four feet square, although some were as small as an ear. Sections were assembled by welders while fabricators simultaneously inserted a 3-ton stainless steel armature into the interior for support.

Match plates were installed, allowing the legs, tail and head to be disassembled for transport and reinstallation by workers in Milan.

The horse will sit on a 4-foot pedestal to be built in Italy.

"This horse symbolizes people attempting great things and sticking with them until they get them done," Enloe said. "I really am very proud to have such a beautiful horse to send to Italy."

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