21 Feb A short history of military statues

It seems that in every town or city, almost anywhere across the world, at least one statue can be found, commemorating an important and celebrated figure of relevance to that locality. What we’re focusing on in this piece, though, is just one type of such statue: military statues. They’ve been around pretty much since there has been such thing as the military, and there is a great art to conveying the noble sacrifice for their country made by the individual depicted in the statue.

Given the customary use of the horse in warfare until relatively recent times, the history of military statues has often been inextricably bound with that of equestrian statues, which depict a rider mounted on a horse. Military leaders were frequently commemorated in statue form in Ancient Rome, while equestrian statues were also popular in Ancient Greece and the ancient Middle and Far East.

The popularity of equestrian and military statues declined in the Middle Ages, and it took until the Renaissance for a surviving monumental equestrian bronze to be cast in Europe again – specifically, Donatello’s heroic depiction of the condottiere Gattamelata in Padua, executed between 1445 and 1450.

Many other remarkable military statues followed, while another great age for equestrian statues was the European age of Absolutism in the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly in the France of Louis XIV. He and other ambitious European monarchs with a belief in the Divine Right of Kings wasted little time in exploiting equestrian and military imagery to give themselves a veneer of glory and power in statue form, with the almost life-size equestrian statue of Charles I of England in London’s Charing Cross being one example.

By the 19th and 20th centuries, the skills needed to create glorious military statues were becoming more and more widespread, while the many armed conflicts of these centuries also brought abundant opportunities to commemorate the fallen – even long after the equestrian element of such works had vanished.

Today, military statues can be created to a customer’s exact requirements by extremely skilled and diligent sculptors, and can be seen in ever-greater numbers across the United States and the world. Although horses may not be depicted quite so often in modern statues, the animals of veterans may still be commemorated, as in the case of several sculpted bronze memorials to Vietnam veterans and their war dogs, as created by Matt Glenn and his team at Big Statues for the opening of the My Heart’s Desire Pet Adoption Center in Houma, Louisiana.

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