(© Kip Mistral 2019. Detail from the “Apotheosis of Kaiser Wilhem” by Ferdinand Keller, 1888. National Gallery, Berlin)
Everyone knows, on an archetypal level, that anyone riding a white horse in a movie is a good guy and anyone riding a black horse is a bad guy. Why is that? Why is Pegasus white and why is the Unicorn white? Why is the horse the King rides so often white? Well, white is the color identified with the qualities of purity and nobility, and also it just so happens that real white horses are extremely rare…literally, the pearl of great price.
Here we have Kaiser Wilhelm I (in his flowing white ermine cape and golden chariot) triumphantly returning through the Brandenburg Gate after victory in 1871. The two allegorical figures leading the procession represent, respectively, Justice (holding the book of the law and the sword), and Truth (holding the mirror). Spanning 16′ X 23′, the massive painting is practically life size. Atop the gate is a Quadriga, a chariot drawn by four horses; how beautifully the artist repeats this motif with the Kaiser’s four-abreast team of dancing pure whites.
True white horses are born white and stay white throughout their lives. They have brown, blue or hazel eyes and un-pigmented skin. The Kaiser’s team passes all these criteria, we can see.
Kings, Emperors and Queens can ride white horses. Most of the rest of us have to fake it with grey horses that, if we wait long enough, will turn white.
Well, let’s cheer up…the Lipizzaners aren’t too shabby, are they? Originally foundation-bred in part from pure Spanish horses–bred primarily for the greying coloration since that was considered to be a horse of visual noble quality and high character, suited to carry aristocrats and royalty–Lipizzaners are born dark and generally turn pure white. Many other horse breeds have individuals with the grey gene who are born a color and begin greying within months or years. My own Spanish gentleman was born buckskin and has turned a different shade of “grey” every year for the last 17…a beautiful journey, and to be sure, we’ve been greying together and he has rapidly gained on white 🙂
Because only my “white” horse will do.
[P.S. I love all horses of every shade of every color.]