The Museum of the Horse



of Chantilly


The horse is one of the oldest motifs in the art world but often we don’t know much about them. That is changing in Chantilly where a brand new equestrian museum has recently opened in the stables of the famous chateau.


By Camilla Alfthan



The Museum of the Horse is the name of Chantilly’s latest addition which is situated in the former garages of the horse carriages in The Great Stables.

The collection includes old film clips with equestrian stunts and the photographer, Eadward Muybridge’s famous sequence from 1878 which showed the actual movements of a galloping horse.

Until then, artists had painted them like ballet sauts. Muybridge’s photographs changed  all that and the way artists looked the horse; just as Degas’ famous art works from the races.

The evolution of mankind and the horse in this context it is also the main theme of the museum.

As a guest one can study everything from equestrian sculptures and rennaissance paintings to ancient saddles, spurs and other inventions made for this noble animal.


Sandals for horses


Not everyone knows that the horses’ hooves were protected by leather sandals until the Byzantines invented the iron shoe.

Or that the Romans rode bareback when they conquered the coastlines of the Mediteranean.

Not until the 1,100th  century were saddles and stirrups introduced in Europe by the Arabs.

From a cultural point of view the horse has also played a major part throughout the centuries.


Kings and dignitaries were traditionally depicted on their mounts, including the Duke of Aumale in a sculpture outside the chateau.

As equestrianism gradually became synonymous with leisure, the art works started to change. At the museum, this is perhaps best illustrated with a meticulously crafted round-about from the 1700th century; while touch screens take the visitors through the world’s many different horse breeds and their usages today.


At the races in Chantilly, 1836


Racing in Chantilly in 1836.


The person behind the museum – Prince Karim Aga Khan – is also a part of equestrian history.

For three generations his family has been deeply involved in thoroughbred racing. However, when the prince inherited his father’s stables and studs at just 23 years of age, he knew nothing about horses. Today, he’s one of the leading breeder owners in Europe. Highlights of some of his best race horses – including Zarkava, Sinndar and Dalkhani – and are shown on flatscreens in the museum.


The Great Stables are also an attraction by themselves, built in 1719 by the last of the Condé princes; Louis Henri d’Orléans and with a splendour that could rival Versailles. Grand festivities with royalty and fireworks were held in the manege of the imposing sand stone building where the jewel of the crown is a dome with a statue of the winged horse, Pegasus which had been destroyed during the Revolution and then put back for its 200th anniversary.

Originally, the stables had room for 240 horses and 500 hounds that were used for stag hunting in the woods.  However that has changed. Today, there are only 30 horses of various breeds, including the only Marwari to ever set foot in Europe. The horses are used for equestrian shows that are staged by Sophie Bienaimé whose father, Yves,  created them over 30 years ago.

Muybridge's photographs from 1878

Eadward Muybridge’s famous sequence from 1878 showed the actual movements of a galloping horse. Until then, artists had painted them like ballet jumps



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