Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Whistlejacket and Roman Horses

by Caroline Lawrence, author of The Roman Mysteries

Yesterday, (26 September 2005), I went to the final day of an exhibition in the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery (the one facing Trafalgar Square). The exhibition was called Stubbs and the horse. I was doing 'research' for my twelfth book, The Charioteer of Delphi. I don't know much about horses so I have to learn fast!

I always get the audio guides to exhibitions like these and I am never disappointed. This one had a special 'family guide' which was narrated by a 'stable boy' and had lots of horsey sound effects and birds twittering in the background. I loved it! Here are some fun facts about Stubbs and horses.

George Stubbs was born in 1724 and he was at his height about the time of that Jane Austen wrote her first draft of Pride and Prejudice.

Stubbs was one of the first artists to really study the horse. He took dead horses and hung them from his stable roof and injected their veins with wax and then drew and drew and drew.

In the late 1800's grooms dried horses by rubbing their hair the wrong way with straw and with cloths.

Stable boys had to get up at 5.00am in the winter and 2.30am in the summer! They only got to go home for a few days a year (probably around Christmas) and they also got May Day off.

Horses don't like having their faces rubbed.

Stubbs' Whistlejacket in London's Nat'l Gallery
Stubb's most famous painting is a stunning life-sized oil painting of a horse called Whistlejacket.

Whistlejacket was a fiery palomino whose grandfather was an Arabian stallion. Whistlejacket was the name of a cocktail popular during the time. It was made of treacle and gin!

Near the final stages of painting Whistlejacket's portrait the horse caught sight of the canvass and tried to attack it. He thought it was another stallion.

Whistlejacket was very nervous like many racehorses and he didn't trust most people. He did like his groom, however: Simon Cobb.

Whistlejacket is now more famous than his owner, Lord Rockingham.

All the horses at that time have their manes combed to the right. The Romans also considered this a sign of beauty in a horse.

Racehorses are often nervous and for this reason they like another animal around as a companion. Stubbs painted a famous racehorse called Dungannon with his 'friend' – a sheep! Some horses had goats and famous Arabian stallion would not be separated from his pet cat.

Stubbs went to Rome and saw a Greek statue of a lion devouring a horse. He based lots of paintings on this statue. (The paintings are quite terrifying but there is no blood)

He also did several paintings of the scene from Greek mythology where Phaeton, Apollo's son, drives the chariot of the sun across the sky with tragic results. The chariot of the sun is based on the Roman quadriga or 'four-horsed chariot'.

I am trying to decide on a name of my horse in The Charioteer from Delphi. I have a long list of names of Roman horses. Here are just a few:
Ferox (Hotspur)
Frunitus (Jolly)
Galata (Helmeted?) a rare mare
Gallus (Cockerel or Gaul)
Garrulus (Chatterbox)
Gemmula (Jewelette) a rare mare
Glaucus (Grey)
Halieus (Fisher)
Hiberus (Spaniard)
Hipparchus (Chief)
Hirpinus (from Hirpina, region in Campania)
Icarus (mythological boy who flew and fell)
Inachus [a river in the Argolid]
Incitatus (Bounce) Caligula's favourite!
Indus (river in India)
Ingenuus (Free-Born) [horse of Scorpus, a famous charioteer]
Italus (Italian)
Iuvenis (Laddy)
Kynagos (Hunter)
Lampas (Fiery)
Laureatus (Receiver of the Laurel Crown)
Latro (Thief)

I was going to choose the name Hirpinus because it is found on a Roman 'chariot beaker'. Then I said the name out loud and burst out laughing. (Say it out loud and you'll see why!)

I will not use that name. I am now thinking of either Sagitta or Pegasus.

[The Charioteer of Delphi and all the Roman Mysteries are perfect for children aged 9+, especially those studying Romans as a topic in Key Stage 2. In 2007 and 2008, the BBC produced a TV series based on the first few books. Some regions can view season one on iTunes.]

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