Kladruby nad Labem: Habsburg Stud now a UNESCO World Heritage Site

By Alexandra Lotz

September 27, 2019

As of July 2019, the Czech National Stud has achieved recognition denied to many cultural or natural heritage sites despite outstanding beauty, historic significance, and enormous effort during a long nomination process. The stud, founded by the Habsburg Empire in order to breed and train noble carriage horses for the court, is now listed as UNESCO World Heritage.

Undoubtedly, Rudolf II did not foretell the future fame of the courtly stud he founded in 1579 in the Bohemian village Kladrub on the Elbe. For elaborate Hapsburg court ceremonies, he aimed to breed noble and powerful carriage horses with the strength necessary to pull heavy gala vehicles in style and with exalted movements. For this honorable task, only stallions were considered and they were supposed to have excellent manners.

Mares and foals in front of the stud chapel and palace

These horses represented a type of horse that was fashionable at the time. Steep shoulders, high necks and roman noses are still trademarks of the Kladrubers. They have been bred for walking, since in important ceremonies the carriage passengers were driven up to eight-in-hand according to their rank. The horses used to be accompanied by grooms on foot through the crowds of spectators and had to remain calm. Furthermore, it was essential that the audience had enough time to see the passengers in the passing carriages. Today, horses bred at Kladruby can be found in the Royal Mews for Denmark and Sweden. They prove their ability not only to walk in an elaborate manner, but also to perform successfully in fast-paced modern driving competitions around the globe.

Stud premises of outstanding universal value

The spacious stud landscape—with its long tree lined avenues and its chessboardlike arrangement of pastures and woods used for the hunting pleasure of the court society— still provides conditions for horse breeding and training. The disasters of the 20th century, the end of the Habsburg monarchy, the first Czechoslovak Republic, and 40 years behind the Iron Curtain left their marks, but those circumstances could not destroy the dignity and the beauty of Kladruby. During the past years the stud premises underwent intensive renovation and today the dignified buildings appear in old brilliance.

In addition to the French Art of Riding as it is still practiced at Saumur, and the Spanish Riding School of Vienna in connection with the Austrian State Stud Piber, the Czech National Stud Kladruby nad Labem is the third equine institution that can be found on the list of intangible heritage. UNESCO has declared it a heritage for all mankind. Let’s hope that that the implementation of the World Heritage spirit succeeds and that the UNESCO title brings positive effects not only for Kladruby, but also for other significant sites that bear witness to the unique connection between horses and humans in history.

For further inquiries about Kladruby nad Labem, equestrian heritage or excursions to places of interest in Europe you are welcome to contact Alexandra Lotz (www.horses-and-heritage.net). Her article “Beauty in harness: the imperial coach horses of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, their decline and their renaissance” will soon appear in World on Wheels (Magazine of the American Carriage Association).

Kladruber stallion in gala harness


“Seven more cultural sites added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List” UNESCO World Heritage Convention, July 6, 2019. url: https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/2004/

“Landscape for Breeding and Training of Ceremonial Carriage Horses at Kladruby nad Labem” UNESCO World Heritage Convention, url: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1589/documents/


#SourceSaturday: Yale Center for British Art

New Haven, CT  06520


At Yale University, the Center for British Art holds a rich archive for the study of British sporting pastimes, including fox-hunting and horse racing. The simple keyword “horse” entered in the Collections Search returns more than 3,600 results! These works range from sculptures to prints and paintings, as well as rare books, manuscripts, and ephemera. Many of these collection items have been digitized and are available through the Collections search engine, allowing for ease of access and discovery.

The Center for British Art was established with the gift of Paul Mellon (1907–1999), who took his serious and life-long passion for horse riding and racehorse breeding into an equally serious collection of rare books and manuscripts on British sport. Podeschi’s volume on the Paul Mellon Collection provides the most extensive reference list (Sport in Art and Books : The Paul Mellon Collection, 1981). Some of the Mellon Collection items also are found in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the National Sporting Library and Museum.

John Dalby, active 1826–1853, British, Foxhunting: Clearing a Bank, ca. 1840, Oil on millboard, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
John Dalby, ca 1840. “Foxhunting: Clearing a Bank”
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

For scholars, the Yale Center for British Art houses a Reference Library with extensive British sporting art research materials. Reference holdings can be accessed through the Center’s collection search and through Orbis, Yale’s online library catalogue. 

Residential Scholar Awards are available for conducting study and research in this collection. The Yale British Art Center, affiliated with the Paul Mellon Center for British Art in the UK, also publishes an online journal, British Art Studies, a potential home for your future research. 

To date, none of the past scholars in residence have pursued an equine topic, despite the riches awaiting within!



John Wootton, 1682–1764, British, Lamprey, with His Owner Sir William Morgan, at Newmarket, 1723, Oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
John Wootton, 1723. “Lamprey, with His Owner Sir William Morgan, at Newmarket”
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection


For Further Reference:

CUMMINS, JAMES B. “THE PAUL MELLON COLLECTION OF SPORTING BOOKS.” The Yale University Library Gazette 75, no. 3/4 (2001): 167-87. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40859253.
Egerton, Judy, Tate Gallery, and Yale Center for British Art. British Sporting and Animal Paintings, 1655-1867 : A Catalogue. Sport in Art and Books. Millbank, London: Tate Gallery for the Yale Center for British Art, 1978.
Podeschi, John B. Books on the Horse and Horsemanship: Riding, Hunting & Racing; 1400-1941. Volume: Sport in Art and Books. The Paul Mellon Collection. London: Tate Gallery, 1981.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and Judy Egerton. British Sporting Paintings : The Paul Mellon Collection in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Richmond: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 1985.
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and Malcolm Cormack. Country Pursuits : British, American, and French Sporting Art from the Mellon Collections in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Richmond: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 2007.


Upcoming NiCHE Conference: Traces of the Animal Past (Toronto, CAN)

On November 7, 2019, NiCHE (Network in Canadian History & Environment) has organized an exciting conference featuring many major players in animal studies and equine studies in Toronto, Canada.

“Traces of the Past: Methodological Challenges in Animal History” is a two-day conference which includes a retrospective on the field of animal history, as well as new research on urban animals, animal biographies, and questions about narratives and knowing.

The event is organized around the “Avie Bennett Historica Canada Public Lecture in Canadian History”, offered this year by George Colpitts (University of Cagalry) on “Retail Animalia: Consumers, the Animal Anti-Cruelty Movement, and the Canadian Fur Trade, 1920-1940.”

For more information: http://niche-canada.org/tracesoftheanimalpast/

Upcoming Exhibit: George Stubbs “all done from nature” (UK)

George Stubbs: “all done from Nature”

12 October 2019 – 26 January 2020

MK Gallery, Milton Keynes, UK

George Stubbs (1724-1806), perhaps best known for iconic portraits of horses (Whistlejacket, National Gallery) also made a lasting impact on the study of anatomy and the natural world. An upcoming exhibition at the MK Gallery will bring together more than 40 paintings and 40 prints and drawings to illustrate Stubbs’ position as one of the great figures depicting animal species across the world.

A self-taught draughtsman, painter and printmaker, Stubbs’s reputation was established through the striking compositions that he brought to breeding, racing and hunting, and a sense of curiosity and empathy that transcended his extraordinary technical ability in numerous commissioned works for the English gentry.

Mares and Foals in a River Landscape

The exhibition includes Stubbs groundbreaking, forensic drawings of horses produced during an intense 18-month period of dissection and classification. In 1766, after five years of preparing anatomical studies based on first-hand examination of horse cadavers, Stubbs published his Anatomy of the Horse. For the first time, these studies will be displayed alongside an actual skeleton of a horse, in this case, that of Eclipse (1764-1789) – the legendary 18th-century thoroughbred and progenitor of over 90% of subsequent racehorses – as well as the several paintings of Eclipse by Stubbs.

George Stubbs, A.R.A.,
Finished study for ‘The Fourth Anatomical Table of the Muscles … of the Horse’, 1756-1758,
Pencil and black chalk, 36.2 x 49.5cm
© Royal Academy of Arts, London

While known for his equestrian art, Stubbs was an avid student of anatomy and the exhibit highlights the studies, both human and animal, that led the artists towards his last great endeavor, A Comparative Anatomical Exposition of the Structure of the Human Body with that of a Tiger and a Common Fowl (unfinished before his death in 1806). Stubbs had begun his training as the child of a Liverpool tanner, drawing left-over animal bones, before pursuing painting at York and finding a niche in anatomical engravings for medical students and practitioners, like Dr. John Burton’s midwifery textbook. With his reputation established by his anatomical work on horses, the subsequent comparative anatomical sketches, methodically arranged, earned a subscription from the Royal Academy of Arts in 1802. Stubbs’ work belongs to the work of comparative anatomists exploring the similarities and boundaries of species long before the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859.

The exhibition is co-curated by Martin Postle (Deputy Director for Collections & Publications at the Paul Mellon Centre), Paul Bonaventura and Anthony Spira. There will be a one-day conference, organized with the Paul Mellon Centre on 17 January 2020 in MK Gallery’s Sky Room, on subjects including anatomical studies, horse racing and breeding, empire and portraiture. A version of the exhibit will also tour to the Mauritshuis in The Hague.

For all of use who cannot make it to the exhibit in person, check out the extensive collection of George Stubbs holdings viewable online at the Yale Center for British Art!

Search for George Stubbs, Yale Center for British, Art Online Catalog

George Stubbs, 1724–1806, British, Zebra, exhibited 1763, Oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
recto, composite, cropped
George Stubbs, 1724–1806, British
The First Zebra Seen in England
Oil on canvas
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

References for Further Reading:

A fully illustrated 200-page catalogue will be published by Paul Holberton with new texts by Nicholas Clee, Martin Myrone, Martin Postle, Roger Robinson, Jenny Uglow and Alison Wright.

Doherty, T., The Anatomical Works of George Stubbs, London: Secker & Warburg, 1974.

Egerton, J., George Stubbs: Anatomist and Animal Painter. London: The Tate Gallery, 1976.

#ShelfieSunday: Practical Horsemanship in Medieval Arthurian Romance


Ropa, Anastasija. Practical Horsemanship in Medieval Arthurian Romance. Rewriting Equestrian History Series, vol. 1, Trivent Publishing, 2019. ISSN 2676-8097

Review by Karen Campbell

     Recently, a growing interest in animal studies, posthumanism, and particularly horses and horsemanship has emerged in academia and in medieval academia particularly. Anastasija Ropa, who obtained her Ph.D. from Bangor University, serves as an important cog in the this machine of equestrian studies through her own research on horsemanship and by organizing multiple equine centered conference sessions at the International Medieval Congress held in Leeds, England, since 2016. She has also acted as an editor for various article collections and now offers us a personally authored, concise, and intriguing journey in her book, Practical Horsemanship in Arthurian Romance, which she, appropriately, dedicates to her equine partner Fizz.

     Readers will be pleasantly surprised at how compact yet detailed her description and analyses are throughout the text. The introduction provides a quick review of relevant literature, including recognition of posthuman strains of medieval equestrian theory from noted authors like Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and Susan Crane and Arthurian centered equine studies from authors like Sioned Davies. This discussion segues into a description of the need for further study of practical care of horses in medieval romance and particularly the Arthurian tradition and a summary of each of her chapters which range in topic from an interest in the relationship between the horse and a knight’s identity in the texts of Chretien de Troyes (especially the Perceval), the symbolic currency of horse feeding and fasting in the Queste del Sainte Graal, and an exploration of the connection between horses and gender also in the Queste del Saint Graal.

     Chapter 1 delves into the complex relationship between horses and social identity through a brief historical look into the development of the concept of knight, a summary of Chretien’s Perceval, the variety of horses available in Europe to influence identity, and how Perceval’s own exchange of horse, from courser to destrier, symbolizes a new status but also an incomplete shift to knight as he makes a number of chivalric errors still. Posthuman scholars may find discussion of the saddle, armor, and a shift from whip to spurs to control the different kind of horses in terms of the role of technologic influence on identity particularly helpful. The scene where a lady and her horse both are punished for having been kissed by Perceval concludes the chapter.

     Chapter 2 explores the Christian symbolism behind feasting and fasting during the Grail Quest. With a thoughtful condensation of archeological evidence of horse’s dietary practices in the Middle Ages, which should interest experts and lay readers, and the descriptions of physical feeding in romances, Ropa shows how knights and their horses connect even more closely. When the knights feast, the horses do so too; when the knights fast, so do the horses. Some consideration of Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur is also included.

     Chapter 3 may be the most stimulating analysis with its consideration of the function of dirt and dirty horses and the meaning this has for gender roles in the Queste. The female Canterbury Tales characters also play a part in the discussion with the easily recognized Ellesmere portraits included for further illustration. Ropa even elucidates the horses’ frame and body language in these images before exploring the various types of female riders in the Queste and the importance of a sweaty horse to build tension in the plot and symbolize the rush its female rider is in. Ropa’s conclusion then moves readers towards the end of the medieval period and the formalization of horsemanship more as spectacle than as battlefield necessity.

     This text should delight animal studies readers, equine history and literature specialists, and equine enthusiasts with its engaging and original analysis. However, graduate and undergraduate course instructors may find this text helpful to students as an example of thorough and focused literary analysis. Further benefit is provided by the affordable price (€13), the equivalent and easily assigned lengths of chapters averaging only 25 pages, and the multitude of manuscript illuminations included in each chapter (roughly 7 per chapter) further enriching the detailed textual analysis with visual evidence. Overall, this text takes readers on a focused journey into how medieval authors considered the practical aspects of horsemanship and gave them meaning in Arthurian literature and certainly merits the time one might spend enjoying it.