Reflections of Horses: Stradanus’ Equile Print Series in Relation to Early Modern Books on Horsemanship

Klazina Dieuwke Botke

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperAcademic


In his De humana physiognomonia (1586), Giambattista della Porta draws specific analogies between humans and animals, not only addressing shape and form but also humoral interconnections. This meant that horses, like people, could be described according to which one of the four humors (blood, phlegm, yellow bile, or black bile) was most dominant. This idea found its way into treatises on horses and horsemanship, where the colour of the coat, the anatomy, and the qualities of different breeds were discussed. A geohumoral discourse was also prevalent. Horses were ascribed specific characteristics according to their country of origin, its climate, and topography. These geohumoral valuations were not fixed and authors often appropriated them to their own advantage. Around the same time, the artist Jan van der Straet (1523-1605) was working on a series of forty prints representing different horses from the stable of Don Juan of Austria. Each print showed a specific breed, carefully positioned in a landscape resembling its land of origin. The African horse, for example, is placed in a dessert, while the city of London is clearly visible behind the English stallion. The series was titled Equile, seu speculum equorum and became very popular; several editions were published between 1580 and 1677, and the prints were collected all over Europe. Additionally, many copies appeared throughout the late sixteenth- and seventeenth century. In my paper I will demonstrate the influence these prints had on a wider scale, and I will argue that they did not only illustrate a general interest in horses, but complemented the discourse on national characteristics and national identity formulated in contemporary books on horsemanship.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 3-Jul-2018
Externally publishedYes
EventSociety for Renaissance Studies - University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom
Duration: 3-Jul-20185-Jul-2018


ConferenceSociety for Renaissance Studies
Abbreviated titleSRS
CountryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Equine History
  • Art History
  • Prints and Drawings

Cite this