Il Grande Miracolo

The bronze sculpture Il grande miracolo, also known as the ‘Fallen Rider’, rises above the busy Pleinweg in south Rotterdam. Originally the work by the Italian artist Marino Marini stood on a modest plinth in an open space on the edge of a built-up area and polderland. Having been relocated at various times due to urban expansion, since 1988 the sculpture has stood on a square at Mijnsherenlaan – across from the spot where it was originally unveiled. To prevent the work being swallowed up by surrounding busy traffic, architect Maarten Struys designed a special setting for the artwork comprising a one-and-a-half metre plinth and two rectangular walls pierced by five passageways. Now the dark bronze sculpture stands out like a calligraphic symbol against the white of the concrete set pieces.

Il grande miracolo depicts a rider on a rearing or falling horse. The horse’s neck stretched upwards, with head turned away emphasizes the vertical movement and the fact that the rider is in danger of sliding off the animal’s back. Horse and rider are not depicted realistically but rendered in elementary forms. Certain details are missing or distorted – the horse’s legs for instance have been reduced to powerless stumps, its eyes are large and hollow, while the rider is but a small figure. The irregular surface of the bronze skin shows evident traces of the sculptor’s manipulation of his material, which rhythmically follows and reinforces the contours of the sculpture. The pose of the horse and rider, the expressionistic distortion and the treatment of the material serve to evoke a sense of powerlessness and loss of control. The committee involved in commissioning a memorial for Pleinweg saw the statue in 1955 at Marini’s first Dutch retrospective at Rotterdam’s Museum Boymans. It seemed a fitting yet modern monument to commemorate the drama that unfolded on the Pleinweg in 1945, when twenty Dutch citizens were shot in reprisals for the murder of two members of the German Gestapo.
It was not until 1957, however, that sufficient funding for purchasing Marini’s sculpture was raised. The committee then formally handed over the work to the municipal council with the request that it be placed on the city’s Zuidplein or South Square. On the execution spot itself, however, they wanted a second memorial and commissioned the artist Cor van Kralingen who created a stone sculpture of a woman grieving. Both sculptures were
unveiled on 3 May 1958 by the son of one of the executed men. As with The Destroyed City by Ossip Zadkine, five years earlier, the general public had to become accustomed to the dramatic language of form of Il grande miracolo. Its dynamic presence, however, overcame the objectors. The ‘Fallen Rider’ was not only accepted, but in 1986 was adopted by a local primary school where it is elucidated in project work on such themes as equality and freedom. In art
historical terms Il grande miracolo acts as a link between a formal war memorial and an independent non-commissioned sculpture. Originally made as an autonomous sculpture, it later gained the function of a commemorative monument.

Within Marini’s oeuvre, Il grande miracolo is one of the later works from a series of equestrian sculptures he began in 1936. Along with portraits and the female nude, equestrian sculpture was one of his major themes. He combined these classic subjects of Western art with the language of form of Etruscan burial sculpture, which was an important inspirational source to
him. As international tension and the threat of war increased in the late 1930s, so did the restlessness in Marini’s work. His approach towards the equestrian theme became more subjective, its execution more expressive, while the balance between rider and horse became more disturbed. Whereas initially horse and rider were poised for action in their respective horizontal and vertical stance, in the 1950s this static composition gave way to contorted angular forms. A greater contrast between the dramatic Il grande miracolo and the early impassive sculptures of the 1930s is hardly conceivable.
A similar development towards a more dynamic style is evident in other work by this sculptor, painter and graphic artist, especially the portraits begun in 1927. During the 1930s they recall the anonymous portraits of ancient times, whereas from the 1940s on the accent was on depicting the personality of the sitter. His once immobile nudes also gradually change
into dancers and acrobats, where a development from counterbalance to movement, a simplification of forms and irregular surface texture play an ever-increasing role. Marini’s work became widely admired, as is evident from his participation in the Kassel Documenta in 1955, the fact that Kröller-Müller Museum bought his work and the exhibition at the Boymans Museum, which also bought a horse and rider statue.

Ineke Voorsteegh

Abelman, H., (ed.), De Vallende Ruiter: Marino Marini, Rotterdam 1995. / Hunter, S., Marino Marini: The Sculpture, New York 1993. / Marino Marini, Rotterdam (Museum Boymans) 1955. / Wagenaar, A. and P. Rook, Van De Zweth tot Zadkine, monumenten in Rotterdam die herinneren aan de jaren 1940-1945, Rotterdam 1991.

Publicatiedatum: 12/05/2015