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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Americans Ride to Rescue of da Vinci's Unfinished Horse

MILAN, Italy -- Weep not, Leonardo. You've got your horse.

Leonardo da Vinci's 500-year-old dream became reality last week when white and blue helium balloons lifted a huge cloth to reveal a giant bronze horse.

The 15-ton statue is a $6 million gift from a group of American art lovers founded by the late Charles Dent to complete da Vinci's unfinished plan as a symbol of appreciation to the city of Milan and the people of Italy.

"When Charles Dent read a National Geographic article in 1977 that said Leonardo da Vinci wept on his deathbed because he didn't get to finish his horse, Charles got up and said: 'Let's make the horse ourselves,'" said Roger Enloe, chairman of the foundation that raised the money for its creation.

"Today I'd like to say one thing: 'Weep not Leonardo. You've got your horse.'"

Da Vinci worked on the project for 17 years at the request of his patron, Ludovico Sforza, the duke of Milan, but was unable to make the giant statue because the clay model was destroyed by French invaders on Sept. 10, 1499 - exactly 500 years to the day that the latter-day version was unveiled.

A Sforza family member, a far-off descendant of Ludovico, looked on in the audience.

Six young Dent family children climbed on the platform surrounded by trees in the garden in front of the San Siro racetrack to let go of the blue ribbons binding the balloons to the huge sculpture, clapping and hugging each other as the voluminous covering revealed the 24-foot-high statue.

A band from the U.S. Sixth Fleet in spotless white played the American anthem, followed by "Fratelli d'Italia," the Italian anthem, played by Carabinieri, Italian military police.

"After a gestation period of over 500 years, we celebrate the birth of the horse," Charles Dent's nephew Peter said at a ceremony attended by the mayor of Milan. "My beloved uncle had no children of his own, but right now it feels like my family is celebrating the birth of a child with you, the Italian people."

Milan Mayor Gabriele Albertini said the horse will stand alongside other da Vinci works of art in Milan, like "The Last Supper."

"This event was able to happen here in Milan today thanks to the friendship of a country where people are determined to make their dreams come true," he said.

After the ceremony, the 700 onlookers, many of them donors who flew in from the United States, swarmed around the horse to examine it as the bands played Italian favorites, like Giuseppe Verdi's "Va Pensiero." Children and adults carried the blue and white balloons that had fallen back to the ground. The tallest men in the audience could not even reach the horse's fetlock, and the children were as large as a hoof.

The city of Milan rolled out the red carpet, hosting a special concert the night before the unveiling at the world-famous opera house Teatro alla Scala; the concert was conducted by Riccardo Muti in honor of Leonardo da Vinci.

Friday's unveiling was the culmination of a 22-year effort that started when Dent, a former pilot, first read a magazine article about da Vinci's "horse that never was." When Dent died in 1994, his relatives and the non-profit foundation promised him they would continue his project.

Da Vinci made numerous sketches of horses, some as small as one inch, and created a full-size clay model that he erected outside the duke's castle, which still stands in central Milan.

The painter of the "Mona Lisa" never made a complete drawing of the horse, and there are no sculptures by his hand.

After extensive studies, discussions with Renaissance scholars and equine experts, work began in the early 1980s and an eight-meter clay master model was made in 1992. A team of artists finished a full-size model four years later, and sculptor Nina Akamo was hired in 1997 to hone a final design.