Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Museum of the Horse, Chantilly

The Museum of the Horse at Chantilly near Paris celebrates the fabuous relationship between Man and Horse, round the world and across history.

Attributed to Giuseppe Zocchi, Equestrian panel

The Great Stables (les Grandes Ecuries) at Chantilly, the grandest stables ever built make the perfect setting for the museum. The Grand Stables were commissioned by Louis-Henri de Bourbon, Prince of Conde (1692-1740). They were built between 1719 and 1735 by the architect Jean Aubert. According to legend, the prince believed in reincarnation and thought he would return as a horse, this led him to build a 'palace' for horses. In reality he wanted to house his horses, hounds and carriages. The stables were used by the Conde princes until the Revolution and in 1814 the Prince of Conde returned to Chantilly and continued the family tradition of hunting.


The Museum of the Horse was opened in 2013 in the Carriage Court of the Great Stables and holds displays of art, tack, objects, manuscripts, sports, games and trophies which reflect the changing role of the horse over the history.The ancestor of the horse is thought to have appeared between 5 500 000 and 4 500 000 BC. The species Equus developed in the past 2 million years. The tarpan, the wild horse of Europe (Equus ferus), along with Przewalski's horse is considered to be the most likely ancestor of our horses. the last wild tarpan died in captivity at the beginning of the 20th century.

"The Persians teach but three things to their sons between the ages of five and twenty: to ride a horse, to use a bow, and to tell the truth."
                        Herodotus, The Histories, c 484-425 BC.


Long after bovine domestication equine domestication began around 4 000 BC in the Ukraine and other parts of  the Near East and Central Asia. At that time horses were used only for food; it was not until thousands of years later that the harness was invented and then riding astride.

Humans gradually implemented selection and cross breeding techniques to raise horses which developed specific characteristics. in Europe, the first examples of developing different types of horse for different purposes occurred in the Middle Ages.

During the 19th century horse breeds adapted for different functions were produced by selective cross-breeding. Today 52 breeds are recognised in France.

Chinese earthenware horse,
Q'in dynasty, 6th-7th century.

It was during the first millenium BC that cavalry developed. The bit was the first invention by man to control the horse. Early riders rode bareback or on cloths to improve the comfort of both horse and rider. Alexander the Great rode 18 000 kilometers bareback to conquer Asia on his horse Bucephalus. A girth was later added to keep the cloth in place. The solid treed saddle was invented in Central Asia.

It was the Arabs who discovered stirrups after invading Persia, who introduced them to Europe. They became widespread in Europe beginning in the 9th century.

The horse's hoof has always been the object of particular care. Nailed shoes date from the 6th century in Byzantium, and three hundred years later had spread across Europe. With shoeing came the farrier whose remit soon increased to include the horse's health and minor surgery.

Large wheeled spur, iron and silver 
Chile, 18th century

Gala harnessing bit of the Dukes of Bourbon-Conde,
France, 19th century

Horses in the military were divided into two categories, heavy cavalry and light cavalry. Heavy cavalry used in Medieval Europe attacked the enemy with a full frontal charge, while the light cavalry which found favour in the Middle East used harassing tactics and repeated short charges.Horses were used in war up until WWI when several million were killed.


Costumes of the Imperial Russian Army,
One of a set of 63 hand coloured lithographs
St Petersburg 1832-1837

The horse's prestige is illustrated by by portraits of kings and the aristocracy depicted on horseback. Equestrian portraits were produced in both eastern and western civilizations.

In Europe riding was an essential component of a prince's education; horses are no respecters of breeding and can make a fool of anyone. So future kings and aristocrats were instructed in Haute Ecole dressage. The presence of horses in equestrian portraits reinforces the prestige evident in the sovereign's attire.

William of Orange-Nassau mounted on a charger
Blue dashed Delftware
c 1700

Francois Clouet, (c1515-1572)
Oil on wood panel
16th century

Juste d'Egmont (1601-1674)
Portrait of the young Lious XIV going hunting on his horse
Oil on wood panel, c1647

As humans settled and the practice of raising animals emerged, the importance of hunting diminished. in the Middle Ages in Europe, hunting became increasingly a privilege reserved for the aristocracy. Chantilly was a major centre for hunting. 

Paul-Emile  Froment-Meurice
Duke of Aumale on his mare Pelagie (detail) 
Bronze, 1864

"One must be sparing with punishment and lavish with caresses, as I have already said, and I will say it again, in order to make the horse obey and go out of pleasure rather than discomfort."
                                      Antoine de Pluvinel (1555-1620),
                Instruction of the King in the Art of Riding, 1625

Attributed to Giuseppe Zocchi, Equestrian Panel

The first horse races took place between 1000 and 1500 BC in Babylonia, Syria and Egypt. In Rome horse racing took place in the Circus Maximus (600-500 BC). Chariot races and horse racing were part of the ancient Olympic Games in Greece beginning in 648 BC.

Two of the French classic races are held at Chantilly, the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby for three year old colts), and the Prix de Diane (French Oaks for three year old fillies) are run in June. The first race run at Chantilly was in 1833 and the racecourse was built the following year.

Pierre Vernet
Chantilly Races, 1836

Illustrated silks: guest books of racing stable owners
847 pages
Paris, 1907

"Merry go rounds" were developed in the 18th century.  Such "carrousels" for children had existed since Byzantine times. But around 1745 wagon-maker Michael Dentzel converted his waggon making business in Bavaria into a carrousel making company.

Carousel horses

Two of the most precious exhibits in the museum are carriages. On May 28, 1825 the Gala Berlin was used to convey Louis-Henri-Joseph, Duke of Bourbon and the 9th and last Prince of Conde and King Charles X on their way to the coronation at Rheims Cathedral. This carriage is one of the few luxury Berlins that still exist in France. As the carriage of a prince of the royal blood, it bears France's coat of arms; three fleur-de-lys beneath a royal crown. The Duke of Bourbon left the carriage to his great nephew and godson, the Duke of Aumale, along with his estate at Chantilly.

Duke of Bourbon's Berlin

The "Empresses' Carriage" was built before 1810 by the Parisian  carriage maker Prelot. The " Empresses' Carriage" was part of Napoleon I's and Louis-Phillipe's establishments. It was later repurchased by Napoleon III. The caleche had been given a name, as were many of Napoleon I's carriages. The name "Cibele No 5" is painted under the carriage body. It was also called the "Empresses' Caleche" because it was used by the Empresses Josephine and Marie-Louise, and later by Queen Marie-Amelie. Marie-Amelie's initials adorn the doors of the carriage. Cibele No 5 was kept at the Louvre until 1888 when the Empress Eugenie gave it to the Duke of Aumale. it is the only carriage of its type that still exists in France.

The"Empresses' Carriage, Cibele No.5

Monogram of Marie-Amelie

In the stables which the Duke of Aumale set up in the East Nave for his thoroughbreds and hunters are the living exhibits of the museum. There are Iberian horses(Andalucians and Lusitanos), Arabo-Frisians, Percheron and Black Forest heavy horses, and Welsh and Shetland ponies. Many of them are trained in Haute Ecole techniques and star in shows under the dome at the center of the Great Stables.

 Live exhibits


Attributed to Giuseppe Zocchi, Equestrian panel.