Don Quixote's horse

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha is a Spanish novel by Miguel de Cervantes. It was published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615. A founding work of Western literature, it is often labeled "the first modern novel" and many authors consider it to be the best literary work ever written. Don Quixote also holds the distinction of being the second-most-translated book in the world after the Bible.

The plot revolves around the adventures of a noble (hidalgo) from La Mancha named Alonso Quixano, who reads so many chivalric romances that he loses his mind and decides to become a knight-errant (caballero andante) to revive chivalry and serve his nation.

He sets out on his old horse Rocinante, with his pragmatic squire, Sancho Panza, to seek adventure. In many ways, Rocinante is not only Don Quixote's horse, but also his double: like Don Quixote, he is awkward, past his prime, and engaged in a task beyond his capacities.

Rocín in Spanish means a work horse or low-quality horse, but can also mean an illiterate or rough man.

The name is a complex pun. In Spanish, ante has several meanings and can function as a standalone word as well as a suffix. One meaning is "before" or "previously". Another is "in front of". As a suffix, -ante in Spanish is adverbial; rocinante refers to functioning as, or being, a rocín. Rocinante's name, then, signifies his change in status from the "old nag" of before to the "foremost" steed.

Cervantes describes Don Quixote's careful naming of his steed:

"Four days were spent in thinking what name to give him, because (as he said to himself) it was not right that a horse belonging to a knight so famous, and one with such merits of his own, should be without some distinctive name, and he strove to adapt it so as to indicate what he had been before belonging to a knight-errant, and what he then was."

Don Quixote and Rocinante have remained a source of empathetic inspiration for many artists, such as Goya, Cezanne, Picasso, Dali, and others. 

Francisco de Goya, ca. 1780

The drawing by Francisco de Goya requested by the Spanish Royal Academy for its magnificent edition 1780 of the novel, that was never published.

Wilhelm Marstrand "Don Quixote and Sancho Panza" (ca. 1847) Nivaagaard museum, Denmark

In a lush landscape featuring both ruins and mountains, a despondent Don Quixote realises he is lost. Like his chivalric heroes, the adventurous knight and his faithful squire Sancho Panza have halted at a crossroads to consider which way to go. Don Quixote glances at Sancho Panza with a somewhat despairing look. With an outstretched hand, the squire attempts to help the indecisive and idealistic knight to see reason. Using the crossroads as his subject, Wilhelm Marstrand sought to illustrate a symbolic scene representing the dilemmas and crises that constantly surround Cervantes’ tragicomic hero. Sancho Panza appears as the sensible companion who attempts – in vain – to keep Don Quixote within the boundaries of reality.

Paul Gustave Doré, 1863

During his life, Gustave Doré, the great illustrator of world classics, who created 80,000 drawings, became the most scrupulous "narrator" of the Cervantes' novel and its symbolism. In 1855, Doré went to Spain, "to the homeland of this glorious knight, to convey the local flavor and see the places that he glorified by his heroic deeds." Doré created 370 illustrations to the novel, which can help trace the path of the ingenious nobleman with all its twists and turns.

Paul Gustave Doré, 1863

Émile Bayard, Doré's contemporary artist, wrote, "The subject, the interpretation of the scene and the composition were born in the artist’s imagination in a completely finished form, and all that remained for him to do was to put this 'creative vision' on paper. Carelessly scattering on paper, Doré placed a human figure somewhere in the corner, then, some distance away, — a spear, an arm, a leg, a temple column, a horse, a wheel, groups of riders, a silhouette of a landscape, then quickly combined it all into one complex composition." And what’s crazy, Doré never made any changes to his drawings. Compositional gift is the hallmark of his art. 

Paul Cézanne  "Don Quichotte, vu de dos", circa 1875

Painted circa 1875, "Don Quichotte, vu de dos" is a rare picture by Paul Cézanne whose importance is reflected in its inclusion in several seminal early publications on the artist as well as by its forming part of several highly prominent collections over the years.

Despite dating from the period of Cézanne's increasing involvement with Impressionism and just after the group's first exhibition, in which his own works featured, "Don Quichotte, vu de dos" does not show an outdoor scene of nature and light, but instead riders and other people in what appears to be a historicised setting. The main rider, with a long gun slung across his back, has traditionally been identified as Don Quixote, the great anti-hero of Cervantes' celebrated masterpiece.

Paul Cesanne "Don Quixote Seen From The Front", 1875

Valentin Alexandrovich Serov was a Russian painter (1865 – 1911), and one of the premier portrait artists of his era. The best works of Serov are among the greatest of Russian realistic art. The paintings by Valentin Serov were characterized by a “sunny” palette and light intonation - the artist was looking for the opportunity to convey everything that he called “encouraging” in painting. In his painting Serov highlights the horse, here Rocinante catch the eyes.

Valentin Serov, "Don Quixote and Sancho Panza", 1885

A leading artist of the Surrealist movement, André Masson was strongly influenced by his close association with Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso. This painting depicts an episode from the novel in which the rash and delusional Don Quixote threatens to attack a troupe of traveling actors, who, having just performed a play, are still dressed in costumes representing Death, the Devil, and other characters. 

André Masson "Don Quixote and the Chariot of Death", 1935. Cleveland Museum of Art

Salvador Dalí, known for his paintings, drawings, and even his own writings, was also an illustrator for many books. Dalí created thirty-eight drawings and watercolors for the English edition of 1946 "Don Quixote de la Mancha". Dali’s interest in this book was most likely due to "the personality of Don Quixote and his madness, his true monomania". The original 38 works are now at the Fundacion Gala Salvador Dalí in Figueres, Spain.

The famous windmill scene of "Don Quixote" is depicted differently in the English and the Italian edition. The 1946 version uses Dali’s famous paranoiac-critical method, where the windmill is seen inside Don Quixote’s head (or imagination) as a knight. In the right hand top corner, Dalí brings a windmill to life as a knight who is being jousted by another (presumably Don Quixote) on an elaborately drawn horse. The Italian edition’s watercolor is more of a realistic version with the windmills seen at a distance by Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho Panza. The muted blues and yellows of the sky dominate the work in a realistic fashion.

The second time Dalí turned to Don Quixote was in 1956, when the Parisian publisher Joseph Foret decided to illustrate the novel by Cervantes and considered Dalí to be the only artist suitable for his extraordinary publication. Foret brought him some lithographic stones and convinced the artist to accept his proposal.

Also Salvador Dali back to this theme later in 1972 with collection of embossed lithographs - Dalinean Horses.

 Salvador Dali "Dalinean Horses - Don Quichotte", 1972


"Don Quixote" is a famous sketch by Pablo Picasso. It is widely recognized as one of the most prominent depictions of the legendary figure who is a popular character in art. It was featured on the August 1955 issue of the French weekly journal Les Lettres Françaises in celebration of the 350th anniversary of the first part, published in 1605. Picasso loved Cervantes from his school years, and with particular pleasure drew everything that was connected with the Spanish tradition and reminded him of his homeland.

Edvard Hopper "Don Quixote on Horseback" 1902-1904, Whitney Museum. 

The American Edward Hopper (1882–1967), who visited Europe three times, like other brilliant artists, did not escape the temptation generated by Don Quixote.

 Marc Chagall, "Don Quixote", 1975

In 1975, after a trip to the USSR at the invitation of the Soviet Minister of Culture Yekaterina Furtseva, the Jewish-Russian artist Chagall painted an oil painting titled "Don Quixote". He had not been in his native country since 1922, when he decided to go into exile, along with his wife, disappointed by the course of revolutionary events, and also by the constant conflicts at the Vitebsk art school, where he worked together with Malevich in favor of the revolutionary avant-garde art. With this late work of a mass-acclaimed Don Quixote carrying red flags, Chagall symbolizes not only the Soviet revolutionary utopia, but the contradictions that his beloved Russia was then going through.

Marc Chagall "L'apparition De Don Quichotte Au Peintre" 1980

Don Quixote, encamped on his horse, rushes to conquer windmills, dragging in his wake a crowd astonished and conquered by new utopias. At more than 90 years old, Chagall plays with infinite chromatic variations to describe all those scenes that seem to have come out of the ordinary life of his imagination. The viewer is seized by the vertigo of the themes, by the vertigo of the colors, but also by the mystery that envelops this work whose message is universal.




Nivaagaard museum


The Dalí Museum



Whitney Museum

"Don Quixote in Goya’s hands" Jesus Perez Magallon