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The Falling Horseman - Gran Miracolo

The Falling Horseman - Gran Miracolo
Ary Groeneveld, Stadsarchief Rotterdam, 1959

An awe-inspiring equestrian statue by the world-famous Italian sculptor Marino Marini, the bronze Miracolo, more than two and a half metres tall, will soon, we are told, be offered to the city of Rotterdam as a monument to wartime resistance at Zuidplein.

Het Vrije Volk, 6 July 1956

Pleinweg committee

Shortly after the end of the war, the Pleinweg Committee was formed in Rotterdam-South. Made up of former resistance fighters and relatives of individuals who died in the war, the committee wanted to realize a memorial to the resistance on the central square on the left-bank of the Maas. However, it would be another decade before this idea came to fruition. That was because the constantly changing plans for Zuidplein made it impossible to find a suitable site. Incidentally, a simple memorial was unveiled on 29 June 1945, six weeks after liberation, in memory of twenty resistance fighters executed here. This memorial had to be removed in 1953 to allow for construction of a block of flats.

An equestrian statue by Marini exhibited at Museum Boijmans-Van Beuningen in 1955 then attracted attention, so the committee decided to make this a memorial. After the various neighbourhood councils had declared their agreement, there were also favourable recommendations from the Resurgent Rotterdam Committee and the National Memorials Committee. The definitive decision lay with the city council. It was asked to help fund the pedestal, as had been the case with the Zadkine sculpture.

Like the ‘Destroyed City’ sculpture by Zadkine, this was an existing work and not the result of a commission or competition. The sculpture of the horseman on horseback lunging forwards was made in 1953 and formed part of a major Marini exhibition held at Museum Boijmans-Van Beuningen in 1955. The exhibited work was the property of a museum in Frankfurt. That museum and Marini gave permission to make a second cast of it.

The Falling Horseman - Gran Miracolo

Fascist stain

Various groups expressed reservations about the initiative to erect a resistance memorial made by an Italian. After all, Italy was a former enemy power. But Marini himself was not tainted by fascism in any way. Indeed, at the opening of an exhibition, he had even laughed loudly at Mussolini when the latter gave one of his infamous boastful speeches. The artist had remained in Switzerland from 1942 to 1946.

In July 1957 the city council voted in favour of funding of the sculpture. The only dissenting voice was that of Labour Party councillor Mager. He thought the sculpture was unsuitable as a work of art and unworthy as a memorial to those who fell in the war.

Horses and horsemen. Horses have a wondrous structure, with sleek legs rooted on the ground, the head lifted up, stretched out or turned to one side, and perched on the back a horseman, a sometimes comic-looking figure with the same sleekness as the animal, but with short stumpy arms, with which he appears to be keeping himself in balance.

Mari Marini, the Italian sculptor, who is presently exhibiting almost forty sculptures and a number of 'disegni' (gouaches) at Museum Boymans, keeps returning to this theme and succeeds in turning it into a remarkable, powerfully expressive sculpture.

Het Rotterdamsch Parool, 5 March 1955

The Falling Horseman - Gran Miracolo

The Falling Horseman, 1959.

Stadsarchief Rotterdam, 1959.

Equestrian sculptures

Marino Marini (1901-1980) made his first equestrian sculpture in 1935 and frequently tackled the same subject. The works initially featured calm postures, similar to Roman equestrian figures, but over time they became more intense and dramatic. The horseman became smaller, stretching his arms and raising his head into space. His position on the horse became more uncertain and his body twisted. In 1950, Marini was allocated a separate gallery in the exhibition 'Figures from Italian art after 1910' at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. His work also featured in a sculpture exhibition at Sonsbeek in 1952. Marini was then the subject of a major retrospective at Museum Boijmans-Van Beuningen in 1955. The critics generally responded favourably. In Het Parool, J.M. Prange saw similarities between the work and Picasso's 'Guernica'. A.M. Hammacher wrote of his horses 'that the secret of the artist probably lies in his ability to draw from the deep well of ancient cultures from pre-Renaissance times to find the right forms for a plastic expressiveness appropriate to the twentieth century.'

We think that everybody will be impressed by the dramatic tension exuded by the piece. With the Zadkine monument, it also turns out that people accept the ‘distortions’, perhaps not immediately but certainly over time, as elements that make the tension visible and palpable. In the end, one no longer even notices the distortions.

Het Vrije Volk, 6 July 1956

The Falling Horseman - Gran Miracolo
Stadsarchief Rotterdam, 1985

Second memorial

The bronze sculpture is about 2.25 metres tall and was placed on a concrete pedestal made by the Municipal Public Works Department. The former Bijenkorf construction site office was placed near the sculpture at almost the same time. This small building was moved from Coolsingel and was positioned partly above a small pond. It was to be function as an exhibition space.

While preparations for the sculpture were in full swing, reports circulated in early 1958 of a second memorial. The same committee that purchased the work by Marini also commissioned sculptor Cor van Kralingen to design a sculpture for the courtyard of a block of flats between Zuidplein and Goereesestraat. This is where German occupying forces had executed some twenty Rotterdammers in March 1945.

The modern forms of Marini's work were not unanimously appreciated by relatives of the fallen, and there was a preference for placing a central memorial in the courtyard of the new residential block. But there wasn’t enough space for a sizeable sculpture. The initial proposal was for a plaque in the courtyard, but in the end Van Kralingen made a naturalistic sculpture of stone, depicting a grieving female figure kneeling. The solution with two memorials pleased everybody. The pedestal includes the names of the twenty individuals executed, the dates 1940-1945, and the words:

Twenty patriots fell here

They live on in our memory

The Falling Horseman - Gran Miracolo
Ary Groeneveld, Stadsarchief Rotterdam, 3 May 1958

The silence was so intense on the normally extremely busy Zuidplein that all you could hear were some children’s voices off in the distance. A dense crowd had gathered around ‘Il Grande Miracolo’, a work by the Italian sculptor Marino Marini, which had just been unveiled by Frans Lam, the twelve-year-old son of a resistance fighter whose name features on the pedestal of the ‘Grieving Woman’, which had been unveiled earlier that day.

Het Vrije Volk, 5 May 1958

The Falling Horseman - Gran Miracolo
Ary Groeneveld, Stadsarchief Rotterdam,12 March 1962

Somewhat hidden, but certainly conducive to meditation, is the spot where the ‘Grieving Woman’ by Cor van Kralingen is positioned. Not visible from the roadway, it requires you to turn off to be able to see it. This is definitely no objection but an advantage. The sculpture is much more a direct memorial to the twenty who lost their lives. In accordance with this, Van Kralingen applied symbolism, which took a remarkably pure form in the figure of a kneeling female. The naturalism is precisely what makes it so instantly appealing; it is a sculpture for everybody. The serenity, the compassion and the surrender it exudes are palpable – The extreme eloquence is uncomplicated. In our opinion one of the best works made by Van Kralingen.

Het Rotterdamsch Parool, 21 June 1958

The Falling Horseman - Gran Miracolo
Stadsarchief Rotterdam, 1964
The Falling Horseman - Gran Miracolo
Ary Groeneveld, Stadsarchief Rotterdam, February 1964

Abstract versus modern

A salient detail is that Cor van Kralingen began to voice his opposition to the ‘modern’ sculptures in the city around this time. He was dismissive of Zadkine, Gabo and Moore. ‘Fearful of coming across as uncomplicated, modern sculptors make everything as complicated as possible.’ The letters pages of newspapers pitted advocates of abstract sculpture against traditionalists. Remarkably, the sculpture by Zadkine was unanimously appreciated within a few years, as the letters reveal. But ‘The Thing’ by Gabo in front of the Bijenkorf and the wall relief in brick by Henry Moore at the Construction Centre did not enjoy similar popularity. The sculpture by Marini was also greeted with scepticism.


Sunday rest meant that Remembrance Day took place on Saturday 3 May in 1958. The ‘Grieving Woman’ memorial by Van Kralingen was unveiled at 11 in the morning. It was a sombre occasion, during which a hundred children from the Reformed, Catholic and public primary schools sung two songs.

The official unveiling of the big memorial to the resistance took place that evening. Marino Marini himself could not attend because his wife was ill. Dr. J.H. Lamberts, chairman of the Pleinweg Committee, gave the opening speech: ‘In choosing a memorial we sought advice from various experts and from Resurgent Rotterdam Committee. We chose this sculpture in the end because it conveys the ideas of resistance and liberation in the best and most spiritual way.’ The sculpture was unveiled by Frans Lam, the son, born after the war, of an executed resistance fighter. Mayor Van Walsum then accepted the memorial on behalf of the city council. A specially composed 'Commemoration Song' was then performed by 450 singers and two harmony orchestras.

The Falling Horseman - Gran Miracolo
Lex de Herder, Stadsarchief Rotterdam, 1988


Despite its considerable size, the sculpture by Marini initially looked somewhat out of place because the design of Zuidplein remained incomplete. The neighbourhood council called it a downright scandal and a disgrace for the city. It was not until the autumn of 1958 that the surroundings were tackled. The Bijenkorf construction site office was placed above a canal that flowed into a pond where the sculpture was located. The pond featured a sort of terrace, and a base of slabs of black marble for the sculpture. A poem by Piet Begeer adorned the pedestal.

Construction of the metro meant that the sculpture moved a number of times. A definitive solution came in 1988 when it was moved to the gardens on Mijnsherenlaan, on the opposite side of Pleinweg. To ensure that the sculpture didn’t disappear amid the chaos of the city surroundings, city architect Maarten Struijs designed a backdrop consisting of two white concrete planes, against which the dark bronze stands out well.

The Falling Horseman - Gran Miracolo
Marlies Lageweg, Platform Wederopbouw Rotterdam, 2023
Marino Marini
De Vallende Ruiter (door marino marini) oorlogsmonument, Mijnsherenlaan, Rotterdam, Nederland
Charlois Zuid