Art - Neptune’s Horses by Crane

by Erin on April 26, 2012

Neptune's Horses by Walter Crane

Neptune's Horses by Walter Crane, detail

Yesterday, I explored some of the symbols of Poseidon here at Mythography. This got me thinking about one of my favorite images of the Greek god. It’s a painting by Nineteenth century artist Walter Crane called Neptune’s Horses. In case you are wondering, “Wait, what does this have to do with Poseidon?”, let me assure you that Neptune is simply the name by which the Romans referred to Poseidon. So it’s the same god, just a different name.

With that clarification in mind, let’s begin with a look at the painting. Neptune’s Horses has a strong horizontal emphasis. The colors are predominantly soft blues and greens accented with creamy whites. And those whites serve as a prominent focal point, drawing the eye toward the upper third of the work.

At first glimpse, it seems that the painting could be a depiction of an ocean. Then, on closer inspection, some details emerge. What initially appear to be waves resolve themselves into an undulating line of horses. Indeed, these white horses merge with the crests of the waves. The horses are leaping out of the sea, manes flying wildly and evoking the churning foam of roiling water as it rushes toward the beach.

It is worth noting that the legs of the horses terminate in what are not quite hooves, but more like the webbed feet of an aquatic creature. This subtle but important detail confirms that these are obviously not your normal, terrestrial equines, but instead mythical animals.

The figure of Neptune (or Poseidon if you prefer), bronze and muscular, appears just right of center in the painting. His arms are outstretched, clutching the reins of his chariot in one hand, while he grasps his symbol, the trident, in the other. Neptune is crowned with a mane of white hair and a luxuriant beard of the same color. The god of the sea is clearly in control of these forces of nature.

I mentioned in the article about symbols of Poseidon that the Greek god was associated with horses in myth.

Neptune’s Horses offers a minimum of narrative, and indeed, is an almost purely decorative work. Although different than many other of the Nineteenth century paintings that I like to feature here, which typically focus on specific scenes from Classical mythology, I feel that this painting evokes the legendary sea god of the Greeks in a memorable and compelling manner.

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