The Start of the Race of the Riderless Horses

Artist: Horace Vernet (French, Paris 1789–1863 Paris)

Date: 1820

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 18 1/8 x 21 1/4 in. (46 x 54 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Collection, Bequest of Catharine Lorillard Wolfe, 1887

Accession Number: 87.15.47


Races of riderless horses were a highlight of Rome’s Carnival, held each February before Lent. Vernet’s painting depicts grooms struggling to restrain the horses before the start of the race—la mossa—in the Piazza del Popolo, which Goethe called "one of the finest sights that can be seen anywhere in the world." Vernet was certainly aware of his friend Gericault’s studies of the race when he made this one, which served a preparatory role for a larger composition acquired by the French Ambassador to Rome (now private collection).