RAM, Quadriga (4 H.P. x 1931), 1929
The small sculpture (70x130x41 cm) cast in aluminium and entitled La quadriga is one of the most well-known and iconic artworks by Ruggero Alfredo Michahelles, nicknamed RAM. Performed in 1929, it was expressly conceived for the public competition/exhibition organised in Rome in 1931 by the American movie enterprise Metro Goldwin Mayer to mark the occasion of the re-release of Ben Hur (1925). The original title of RAM’s sculpture, 4 H.P. x 1931, where ‘H.P.’ means ‘horse power’, was a clear reference to the modernity of the artwork, especially in terms of material and style. The artwork represents a revised and modernised version of a traditional Roman 'quadriga', a chariot conducted by horses. La quadriga is still owned by the Michahelles family and is on long-term loan to the Fondazione Matteucci per l’Arte Moderna based in Viareggio (Tuscany).
A New Theorization of the Relationship Between Subjectivity and Objectivity
The Rationalization of Aesthetics: the Straight Line
When Filippo Tommaso Marinetti saw RAM’s La quadriga for the very first time he thought it was a significant expression of modernity (Ragionieri 2014:9). RAM appeared to have carved movement into a static sculpture, giving a heavy substance velocity and power. Already at the end of the 19th century, Medardo Rosso and then Boccioni had attempted to represent movement in static art – see for example the horses in Boccioni’s La città che sale (1910). In light of this, RAM’s idea was not so much revolutionary, but a further step along this path, both theoretically and practically.
The artist, summarising his ‘creative creed’ in the word traiettiva (expression invented by his brother, Thayhat) intended to instil motion in a three-dimensional object by counterbalancing charioteer and horses. The latter, frantically pushed forwards, seem to generate a rebound affecting the man. The velocity of the beasts is further amplified by their prancing pose on an ascending pedestal: this gives us the impression of an elegant flight rather than a crazy horse ride. These features made La quadriga comparable to La vittoria dell’aria by his brother Thayaht, also an artist. Both works shared the same aerial vision, rapidness and a synthetic, linear composition. Linearity is particularly predominant in RAM’s work, shaping with continuity all the elements and rendering the sculpture become soft and fluid. Though the lines vary – rounded at the wheels, almost liquid at the horses’ tails, more defined at the manes – overall they help create a homogeneous and harmonious effect.
The ‘spiritual’ affinity with the regime came with a thematic and visual revision of a subject traditionally associated with ancient Rome which became popular again during the thirties. Nodding at huge cinematographic productions like Ben Hur, as well as at a conservative power like Fascism, La quadriga perfectly embodied the zeitgeist of a complex era, based on power and popularity, wars and stars.
Negri Antonello, Bignami Silvia, Rusconi Paolo, Zanchetti Giorgio and Susanna Ragionieri (eds). 2012. Anni ’30. Arti in Italia oltre il fascismo. Florence: Giunti Editore.
Ragionieri, Susanna (ed.).2014. Ram La realtà metafisica. Viareggio: Fondazione Matteucci per l’Arte Moderna.