The Polish Rider, dated around the 1650’s, is a painting of an unidentified young man travelling on horseback, and is generally attributed to the Dutch artist Rembrandt.
In the real world there is considerable controversy as to who he is, but using some imagination and a little background research I have captured an imaginary moment where he has been spotted by two guards in the tower on the hill behind him, and we can listen to their conversation. Maybe this explains everything?
The Polish Rider
“Hey, John, look down there. Can you see him?”
John slid reluctantly off the broken stone block that has been slowly numbing his backside for the last hour and pushed his best friend, Alphonse, away from the narrow slit in the dark tower.
Looking down into the war-torn valley below, he immediately spots the object of his friends increasing mirth. You could not miss it.
“Well, well, if it isn’t the Polish officer that nearly got us all killed yesterday.”
“Yes, That’s the one”, says Alphonse. “But why do you think he is Polish. He is a Cossack, look at his hat and uniform.”
John looks harder and then shakes his head.
“No, according to my friend in the stables, he is definitely Polish. One of those “lost men” from the Polish light Cavalry. You know, those ones from Lithuania. The famous Lisowczycy brigade that do not get paid, but are allowed to loot and plunder as they please, although, looking at his face, you would not think that he was such a blood thirsty brigand.”
Pushing back to have another look, Alphonse bangs his head against his friend’s as he squeezes in to take another look at the rider.
“Well, I am telling you that the uniform he is wearing is definitely Cossack. Just look at his fur hat and those tight red britches tucked into his soft leather boots, to say nothing of that long, curved sabre strapped to his saddle. Those Cossacks really think that they are better than us, and where did he get all those arrows from, I thought they were in short supply?”
As they both pull away from the open window and walk back into the warmth, John laughs and slaps his friend on his back.
“Never mind about those arrows, did you see which horse they had given him?”
“The grey mare ”
“Yes, it’s the one that was rescued from the fire yesterday in the stables.”
“What, not that mad one that lost its tail?”
“Yes, I think that our friend down there must have really upset the stable yard grooms. According to my same source, the horse was scheduled to be turned into tonight’s dinner, but somebody must have wanted to see some real sport instead.”
Looking at each other they stop, and then run back to the slit in the wall to take another look at the horse and rider below.
The officer has not moved and is still in his own world, staring with glazed eyes at battles past, and, much to the rising amusement of the two guards, he seems oblivious to what is happening beneath him.
The horse is becoming increasingly agitated. Its ears are constantly flicking forward and it is gnashing frantically at its bit, but more importantly, and unlike its rider, the two watchers can see the horse’s eyes. They are white with fear.
The Polish rider is going to be in for the ride of his life and like so many others, the two guards do not want to miss the fun.
The Polish Rider is currently on show in the Frick Museum in New York