VERROCCHIO, Andrea del
(b. 1435, Firenze, d. 1488, Venezia)

Equestrian Statue of Colleoni

Gilded bronze, height 395 cm (without base)
Campo di Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice

In 1479 the Venetian authorities had decided to erect a monument to the mercenary Bartolomeo Colleoni of Bergamo who had died in 1475, leaving funds for an equestrian in his honour. He naively stipulated that it be sited in Piazza S. Marco, too prominent a place for this potentially dangerous symbol of power. Instead the authorities decided cleverly to put it before the remote Scuola di S. Marco. A competition was held and Verrocchio sent a life-size wax model of the horse in 1483. It was unfinished at his death in 1488, although he had completed the figure and horse in clay. In his will, he enjoined his pupil Lorenzo di Credi to finish it, but this responsibility was transferred in 1490 to the Venetian bronze caster Alessandro Leopardi (who designed the base and signed on the horse's girth).

Verrocchio s monument of Colleoni scarcely differs from older equestrian monuments which cities commissioned during the 15th century to honour the outstanding services rendered by their condottiere, such as Donatello's Gattamelata in Padua. Both depictions have a more or less similar position of rider and horse, derived from the most famous equestrian monument of the age, the classical Roman equestrian monument of Marcus Aurelius. The most obvious difference between these images of brute power resides in the torsion of Verrocchio's, Donatello's being confined to a plane. Colleoni stands erect in his stirrups to regard his enemy in violent contrapposto, while his horse turns and raises one hoof without support. (Verrocchio's is technically more advanced.) His war machine, embodying belligerent force, is dressed in contemporary armour, whereas Gattamelata wears pseudo-antique armour. Donatello's image is calm, abstract, dignified and universal; Verrocchio's is specific, vigorous and dynamically active. The grimly determined visage with its furrowed brow, staring eyes and intense expression may have influenced the 'terribilità' of Michelangelo's David.