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Gericault’s Fake-Gallop Horse Judged Speedy but Unrealistic

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In two experiments, we tested pictures of horse gaits—alt (standing), walk, trot, gallop, and a fake gallop, a pose shown in a well-known Gericault painting. The pose was portrayed frequently in the nineteenth century, its features hotly debated. Fake gallop has legs extended fore and rear, close to parallel to the ground. Experiment 1 sampled real artworks depicting horses and Experiment 2 used silhouettes of horses. In both, reports of amount of movement increased from alt to fake gallop. In Experiment 1 similar results were obtained from novices and equestrians (‘experts’ familiar with horses). The extreme leg extension in fake gallop may suggest high speed, as Arnheim suggested. However, true gallop includes legs curled close together under the body—a ‘running pony’ pose—so both extremes of extension may suggest high speed. In Experiment 2, novices judged fake gallop unrealistic despite giving high movement scores. We suggest its depiction may be metaphoric, meaning a deliberately false item has relevant features of a referent. For the artworks, the amount of movement reported correlated positively but quite modestly with aesthetic appreciation, but for the silhouettes, the correlation was reversed. We suggest expression can be positive for many horse poses.

Affiliations: 1: University of Roma Tre, Rome, Italy ; 2: University of Toronto, Scarborough, Canada


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