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Erich Hösel’s “Hun on Horseback” in the Kolonnadenhof


With Erich Hösel’s “Hun on Horseback”, on 11 December 2015, one of the most extraordinary equestrian statues of the late 19th century was added to the presentation in the Kolonnadenhof of the Alte Nationalgalerie on the Museuminsel. The bronze sculpture, designed in 1895, was on loan for over 80 years in Hamburg-Wandsbek, and now, following extensive restoration work, returns to the site on which it stood until 1929. This life-size statue depicts a mounted warrior, armed with a shield and bow and arrow, bending down from his horse in order to glance down upon a skull. While the horse, walking resolutely forward, shies away from the gruesome sight, a satisfied smile appears to play across the face of the Hun, who with squinted eyes, broad nostrils, full lips and plaited braids is marked as foreign.

Ethnographic elements play an important role in Erich Hösel’s later work, as is apparent in the multiple studies of heads that he created on prolonged journeys through other continents. Hösel’s “Hun on Horseback” is also indebted to the symbolism of the late 19th century, which turned its fascinated attention in equal measure to the ominous, the eerie and morbid; and to the unknown, the foreign and the exotic. If the equestrian statue has been the highest form of esteem for heroes ever since antiquity, then Hösel, in choosing to depict a Hun, stands in the starkest possible contrast to this traditional gesture of veneration: the nomadic people from Central Asia, who disappeared in the fifth century after Christ, were at the time considered to be the very concept of relentlessness, fury and inexorability, and as such found their way into the political rhetoric of the 20th century – in Kaiser Wilhem II’s notorious “Hun speech”, and subsequent English war propaganda, all the way through to the labelling of the German football team as “Huns” in the English tabloid press.

In the Kolonnadenhof of the Alte Nationalgalerie, Hösel’s striking work now enters into a compelling dialogue with the equestrian statue of Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia (who prevented the revolution of 1848), as well as with the recently erected “The Monument” from Atelier van Lisehout, which casts a look back at the socio-political past of the Second Reich in the years leading up to the First World War (while simultaneously casting a sidelong glance to the future, as well).

The sculptor Erich Hösel (1869–1953) studied at the Dresden Academy of Fine Arts, where he exhibited his work for the first time in 1887. The “Hun on Horseback”, which the Nationalgalerie acquired from the artist in 1897, ranks among his earliest and at the same time most popular creations, which is attested to both by the many miniatures in bronze and porcelain, and by the reproductions on postcards. In 1903, Hösel became the director of the design department of the Meissner Porcelain Manufactory.