This art story has all the earmarks of a gross misunderstanding that makes a muddle of what an artist intended as a symbol and what the symbol traditionally represents. The story begins with a plan in September to install 40 mammoth sculptures of horses in fragment form at the Roman Coliseum, in front of the arena and on top its columns. The horses are said to be an emblem for the mass migrations of millions of people constantly on the move to survive. But since when are horses the embodiment of suffering?

Changing horses in midstream

It’s hard to see the point of either this work or the title of the work. The sculptor, Gustavo Aceves, calls it “Lapidarium,” a decidedly neutral title unaligned with his avowed intent about migrants. Was the migration issue an afterthought to connect to current events? The question goes begging since these same horses by Aceves also were used last year at Berlins’ Brandenburg Gate to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII in Europe.

Acevas says that after the exhibit at the Coliseum, “Lapidarium” will go to Paris and then to his homeland of Mexico. No mention of what the meaning of the horses will be in those places.

A horse of a different color

The curator of the horse show at the Coliseum - Francesco Buranelli, former director of the Vatican Museum, now secretary general of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church – seems unaware of the missing link between displaced persons and horses. He told the #Art Newspaper that Aceves’ steeds are meant to throw a spotlight on the issue of mass migration as if the equine species had no previous significance.

But symbols endure and Hans Biedermann, who has written extensively about such icons and their meanings, noted in 1989 that in symbolism tradition, horses embody power and vitality. You can see that as far back as the Cave Art of the Ice Age. The species wasn’t tamed until thousands of years after that time. Given that history, one wonders where the downtrodden fit in here.

Beating a dead horse

Something else that doesn't make sense about using horses at the Coliseum to signal suffering: the F l avian Amphitheater is one of the great vestiges of classical antiquity, which held to the horse's positive aspects. That ancient association was so positive that Biedermann said horse skulls were traditionally set on the roof of houses to ward off misfortune. Even in fairy tales, these animals are viewed in a positive light, complete with magical powers.

Then there’s Pegasus, the mythical stallion associated with poetic inspiration, likely grounded in the ancient myth of the horse finding water on Mount Hellion, where the Muses lived. There’s just nothing negative to be found unless you count how horses are easily spooked. But even at that, tying skittishness to the brave souls who uproot themselves to stay alive would be downright insulting. Sorry Gustavo. Stick with sculpting and leave its meaning to your viewers. #Android