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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Giant Horse Rears Head In Da Vinci's Hometown




ROME -- The world's largest statue of a horse, inspired by 500-year-old sketches left by Leonardo da Vinci, arrives in Italy Sunday as the gift of American enthusiasts determined to realize the Renaissance genius's dream. The giant bronze stallion, displayed briefly in June at the Tallix foundry in New York where it was cast, will go on permanent display in Milan in September.


"We can hardly wait," Maria Grazia Vernuccio, a spokeswoman for cultural affairs at the Milan city hall, said.


"It's all the more important because this year is the year of Leonardo in Milan. We've already had the restoration of 'The Last Supper,' and now there's the horse too," she said. The 15-ton horse, its left leg raised and bent, stands as big as a house ? 7 meters high, 9 meters long and 2.5 meters wide.


Leonardo da Vinci's Horse Inc., the non-profit organization that oversaw the $6 million project, says the statue, cast in silicon bronze with a stainless steel internal structure, is strong enough to withstand earthquakes.


Da Vinci's original scheme was not so fortunate.


His patron, Lodovico Sforza, the duke of Milan, commissioned an elaborate equestrian statue in 1482 in honor of his father.


Da Vinci worked on the project for 17 years, making copious notes about his plans to cast the giant horse all in one piece using 80 tons of bronze.


He made numerous sketches of horses, some as small as 2.5 centimeters, and installed a full-size clay model in a vineyard outside the duke's castle.


But French forces invaded Milan on Sept. 10, 1499, ending the Sforza dynasty's reign, and archers subsequently used the model for target practice, reducing it to rubble.


The abandoned plans, which some say the artist mourned until his death, were resurrected in 1977 when Charles Dent, a retired pilot from Allentown, Pennsylvania, read about "the horse that never was" and vowed to make Da Vinci's dream come true.


Dent, who died in 1994, saw the horse as "a gesture of appreciation from the American people for all the Renaissance has meant to our culture."


After extensive consultations with Renaissance scholars and equine experts, work began in the early 1980s and an 8-meter clay master model was constructed in 1992.


Four years later, a team of artists finished a full-size model, and sculptor Nina Akamu was hired in 1997 to hone a final design ? not necessarily according to Da Vinci's original plans.


"The sculpture which I created ... pays homage to the creative genius of Leonardo. It is not intended to be a recreation of his sculpture," she said.


"Our gift to Italy may be viewed as a metaphor for the immense genius of Leonardo, a paragon of creativity, and the great epoch in which he lived, the Renaissance," she says on the project's website (www.leonardoshorse.org).


The horse, which has been dismantled for the journey, will be unveiled in a new cultural park at Milan's historic San Siro racecourse Sept. 10 ? 500 years to the day since the French invasion put a stop to Da Vinci's plans.


Although Dent intended the horse as a gift from the United States to Italy, one other casting will be put out to pasture in a park in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in October.