The Real Burano Horse

The Real Burano Horse
BuranoHorse 1971-72
BuranoHorse 1971-72

After studying at the Slade School of Art in London, Brian won the Rome Scholarship – 1958-60. He was taught by the art historian and Keeper of the Queen’s pictures,  Anthony Blunt. He was so impressed by Brian’s work that he gave him a block of travertine marble from which Brian carved a life size boy.

He then taught at Winchester and Goldsmiths Colleges of Art before settling at Camberwell College as deputy Head of Sculpture.

In 1970 he was invited by friends to celebrate the New Year in Rome. He writes: (see below)


The Italian stallion Brian sculpted in The Burano, Le Marche, Italy

“Friends took me to meet their relatives in the Serra di Burano, Le Marche where I met Pippo Saldi, a farmer who bred and reared Burano horses of so rare a strain that there were no more than eleven stallions at stud in Italy. These were the war horses of classical antiquity, which had been employed to pull heavy munitions carts at speed over long distances. Pippo showed them at nearby Citta di Castello, where the horse fair had been held annually for hundreds of years.

The whole region had scarcely changed since the days of the great Duke Federico da Montefeltro, the condottiere who built palace s at Urbino and Gubbio and was portrayed by Piero della Francesca. Everything is steeped in tradition, people, customs, food and stories. It was here that I first saw my horse, a beautiful young colt, satin-skinned and curiously chocolate in hue, with a blond mane. Up until this point most of my work had been centred around the human figure for which I used a rigorous measuring system, where I imagined the form, usually standing, enclosed inside a cuboid space. The inherent problem with this approach is that the standing figure is seen as a twisting column whose elevations appear  to escape their spatial confinement. In contrast, the structure of a horse is wholly sympathetic to being contained within a cuboid space and this realisation made a profound impression on me. I jokingly said that I would be back to sculpt the horse next summer.

I was taken at my word and in the event, I did return, but by then it was a different matter: the colt had grown to double its size. the unique feature of the breed is an enormous lung capacity which requires a body structure as broad at the forequarters as it is at the haunches, whereas other horses taper from back to front.

Moreover this was a highly dangerous stallion that sought to maim, biting viciously whenever I was within range, not built for kicking but making every effort to trample me! I had to devise a system of tricks to get near my subject and I became well accustomed to hearing his teeth snap merely inches from my ear. I learned precisely the reach of that murderous swinging neck.

To transfer sculptural points from horse to sculpture, I tied a rag ball to a long stick and dipped it into a bucket of clay slops to act as a marker. I accidentally discovered that a blob of clay on the horse’s nose could gain me ten minutes in which I could take close measurements of the head and hind quarters without fear of being killed, as the horse would spend these ten minutes licking off the clay. Another distraction I found was to give a high pitched whistle which would so puzzle the beast that he  would stand motionless, whereupon I could again approach closely, perhaps for five minutes.

One insurmountable difficulty was the extreme hospitality of my hosts, because the Saldis would not hear of my missing their huge midday meal throughout a period of two months. Sadly it was just at this time of day when the horse was at his most passive, dozing in the heat, that it would have been best for me to work.

My dream had been to have the sculpted horse as a monument on the retaining wall of the Piazza dei Signori of the medieval city of Gubbio, itself like a sculpture in “bas rilievo”, built on the side of a mountain. Instead I brought the mould to England where it was cast in bronze. I have made a series of smaller studies from it, but the original stood in the garden of  the artist Ralph Steadman before  the late Felix Dennis bought it for his sculpture garden in Warwickshire.

Art Review June 1998

Burano Horse Small circa 1972
Burano Horse Small circa 1972