Graduation Year

Spring 2014

Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis


Art History

Reader 1

George Gorse

Reader 2

Corey Tazzara

Rights Information

© 2014 Elsa L. Bruno


Horses were high status animals in the middle ages. Strong, costly, and used in war, they symbolized power and wealth. Yet in some Trecento Italian frescos, horses take on another role. Particularly through their eyes, ears, and body positioning they seem to communicate with each other regarding the religious scenes at hand. Additionally, horses are often the only beings paying attention to Jesus or God, or are the sole beings who break the fourth wall of an image to engage with the viewer. While the revolutionary use of gesture and eye movement has been examined in humans in these frescoes, horses (and other bovine animals) have been left out of the conversation. Why are these animals seemingly the most aware and mentally active beings? Particularly remarkable frescos incorporate horses in this way in Florence, Padua, and Assisi, and San Gimignano. Giotto di Bondone, Pietro Lorenzetti, Taddeo Gaddi, Andrea di Bonaiuto, Altichiero da Zevio, Lippo Memmi (and their schools and assistants), completed large scale fresco cycles in churches in these cities that retain their importance and magnificence today. Eight panels from these cycles will be examined for their treatment of horses as a vehicle for emotional communication, in chronological order.