A reader in Boston asks, " Whatever happened to . . . " Leonardo's Lost Horse

Five hundred years ago, Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, commissioned Leonardo da Vinci to sculpt the largest bronze equestrian statue ever made. The horse was a planned 24 feet high and would have weighed 80 tons.

But the horse never left the barn.

Da Vinci was juggling so many other projects for the Italian court - including "The Last Supper" - that he had little time for the project.

Seventeen years after the duke's initial request, da Vinci produced a 24-foot clay model of the statue.

At the same time, war broke out between Milan and France, and the bronze earmarked for the statue was funnelled into cannon production. After Milan fell in 1499, French archers used the model for target practice, destroying it entirely.

But in 1977, da Vinci's dream was dusted off when Charles Dent, a retired airline pilot and Renaissance afficionado, read about the thwarted project in National Geographic.

Moved by the story, Dent vowed to re-create the horse and present it to Italy as a gesture of friendship.

He created Leonardo da Vinci's Horse Inc., others joined the cause, and 21 years of research and several million dollars later, da Vinci's lost horse is nearing completion in a foundry in Beacon, N.Y.

Dent passed on in 1994, but the horse's first appearance is still scheduled for Sept. 10, 1999 - the 500th anniversary of France's invasion of Milan.

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