Philips Wouwerman was famous in his time for his skill at depicting horses in many different situations – at rest in the stable, being shod in the forge, out hunting or, as here, in the frenzy of battle. In what is a relatively small painting – not by Wouwerman himself but produced in his studio – the artist has crammed in at least 14 of them, charging, stumbling, tumbling and wheeling across the canvas.
Despite this crowded field, more than half the picture is taken up with a smoke-filled sky, used to underscore this frozen moment of violence, with a series of dramatic silhouettes of swords, flags, guns and rearing horses.
Wouwerman’s war paintings did not usually depict identifiable conflicts, but another version of this picture (State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg) has been described as a battle between Poles and Swedes. The horsemen advancing from the left have red flags, coats, hats or capes – a colour associated with Poland – while their opponents, apparently in retreat, seem to wear the blue of Sweden. The two countries were at war from 1655 to 1660.
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