Thursday, January 25, 2018

Undead Cavalry for Vengeance of the Lichemaster part 2

The skeletal horseman produced by Citadel in 1986 are badass miniatures. As my final installment of my tour through The Vengeance of the Lichemaster, here are the final five Undead Cavalry that I painted for the army of the Lichemaster himself, Heinrich Kemler (the first five death riders are here).

Dead dudes riding horses is a an old and scary image in European folklore. For example, Germany, Scandinavia and Britain have all given us variations on the legend of the "Wild Hunt", a collection of ghostly horseman that may be led by the Devil, a dead king or a god like Odin. A spectral hunt like this is mentioned as an ill-omen in medieval English manuscript, the Peterborough Chronicle (1122-1154):
...several persons [in 1127] saw and heard many huntsmen hunting. The hunters were swarthy, and huge, and ugly; and their hounds were all black, and wide-eyed, and ugly. And they rode on black horses, and black he-goats. This was seen in the very deer-park in the town of Peterborough, and in all the woods from the same town as far as Stamford. (Laud Misc. 636, Bodleian)
Other ghost riders include Celtic headless horsemen, the Dutch Bokkenrijder, and fairy riders like the Green Knight. But I think the well-spring for the image of a sinister skeleton riding a horse is the Bible. To be more specific, it's the Book of Revelation, where John of Patmos describes Death incarnate as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:  
And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. 
And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. (Revelation 6:7-8, KJV)
This brief description gave way to a host of medieval and renaissance art imagining Death as a skeletal rider. Here are three choice examples:

From left to right we have details from Book of Hours, Yates Thompson 6 MS, Naples, 1477; Book of Hours, Comites Latentes 54 MS, Florence, 1470-1480; and The Apocalypse Tapestry, Paris, 1377–1382.

Deathly riders passed from folklore and art, and into the world of modern fantasy literature with such works as Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (1954). There we get two different flavours of undead cavalry. On the one hand, you have the iconic Black Riders slouching and hooded on their evil steeds:
Round the corner came a black horse, no hobbit-pony but a full-sized horse; and on it sat a large man, who seemed to crouch in the saddle, wrapped in a great black cloak and hood, so that only his boots in the high stirrups showed below; his face was shadowed and invisible. (The Fellowship of the Ring, Book I, Chapter 3)
And on the other hand, you have the Dead Men of Dunharrow: this is the ghostly host of ancient oathbreakers that Aragorn summons to his aid for the War of the Last Alliance. Tolkien is too good a writer to give us too much of a description of these ghosts, instead leaving them to the reader's imagination. All we really get is Legolas's statement as he emerges from the tombs beneath the White Mountains:
'The Dead are following,’ said Legolas. ‘I see shapes of Men and of horses, and pale banners like shreds of cloud, and spears like winter-thickets on a misty night. The Dead are following.’ (The Return of the King, Book V, Chapter 2)
It seems to me that both the Dead Men of Dunharrow and the Black Riders owe a lot to the Wild Hunt. With respect to the Dead Men of Dunharrow, the resemblances include the fact that the Wild Hunt is sometimes said to be led by a great King, like King Arthur or Fredrick Barbarossa; and in other versions of the story, it is populated by wrongdoers or criminals who are cursed by their crime to ride without rest. 

The connection between the Wild Hunt and the Black Riders is also pretty clear: sinister horsemen who hunt across the wild places of the earth in search of some mysterious game. In fact, the description of the black hunstmen in the Peterborough Chronicle that I cited before seems like an inspiration for the Black Riders (except that the Nazgul don't ride goats). In any case, I think it's interesting that Tolkien seems to have been influenced by the myth of the Wild Hunt, but used it to create two totally different species of deathly horseman.

Well, on to the miniatures!

While I mainly used the Citadel C21 range of Undead Cavalry for the Lichemaster's forces, I also wanted an excuse to paint some of the gorgeous miniatures for Citadel's 1980's Lord of the Rings range. 

Above is the mounted "Dead Man of Dunharrow" (Citadel ME72, sculpted by Bob Naismith, 1985). Although it hard to find precise information about who sculpted Citadel's 1980's Lord of the Rings range, I'm confident in attributing this one to Bob Naismith. First, it looks like a Naismith, and second, the Citadel Journal Spring 86 mentions that Naismith created the Middle Earth cavalry (and, I suspect, sculpted most of the other miniatures in the range too). In any case, this is a fantastic sculpt. I love the slouching rider and the way he seems to lean on his spear like an old man gripping a staff.

Here's the "Black Rider" (Citadel ME64, sculpted by Bob Naismith, 1985). Once again, Naismith (Citadel's "most outrageously Scottish designer") has nailed it. Don't you love the way the dagger is held aloft in an invisible hand?

Next comes the alternate "Black Rider" (Citadel ME64, sculpted by Bob Naismith, 1985). This model has a spectacular sense of speed. I tried to accentuate this galloping sensation by adding in a set of reigns (which I modelled from the thin metallic wire that you find on some bottles of Rioja - as if i needed another excuse to drink more Rioja.) 

The above model goes by two names depending on which advert you examine: "Elfcleaver" or "Serratus the Reaper" (Citadel C21 Undead Cavalry, sculpted by Bob Naismith, 1986). He's another fascinating model - I love the way he leans on one side of the horse, as if his rotting corpus can barely keep itself in the saddle. For reasons that are still not clear to me, I gave his robe a saucy striped pattern.

And finally, we have "Leopold the Exhumed" 
(Citadel C21 Undead Cavalry, sculpted by Bob Naismith, 1987). This model features another one of Naismith's fantastic skeletal horses - this one has ox-like characteristics like a heavy skull and stubby horns.

And here are all 10 models arraigned for battle...

Thanks for stopping by!


  1. Such a cool unit that oozes the old skool vibe. ;) Love your paintwork.

  2. Oh, my sweet Dark Ones!
    Awesome work my friend!

  3. A splendidly arrayed unit, I think they look very coherent despite coming from different ranges.

  4. Beautiful mini and Beautiful work!

  5. Superb stuff - they look suitably apocalyptic (in a medieval/renaissance sense!)

  6. Spectacular. Absolutely terrific work. Excellent choice of colours and patters. Oh, and of wine, of course :D

  7. Great post! I love the work you made on what inspired you. I myself thought of the Bible while painting an undead horseman. The pale horse is a very striking image in my opinion. I did not know the wild hunt and some of the myths you refer to. It is very inspiring!

    Wonderful minis, thank you for sharing!

  8. That unit looks fantastic, I especially like how they each have their own space and aren't cramped together as you often see with more modern models. I also love the camera angle for the first photograph - very dynamic and imposing! Stunning work all round

  9. W.r.t. skeletal horsemen: one of the more iconic images (at least, imo), is the painting "Triumph of Death" (1562) by Pieter Breughel. Skull and Crown has made a number of skeleton miniatures inspired by this painting:

  10. These are some of favorite models citadel ever produced.

    Also, GW already did their take on the Wild Hunt in the third book of the Orfeo series where they are understand Slaanesh worshipers.

  11. Best undead cavalry unit ever! The miniatures, the painting, the banner - it all comes together in a perfect, beautiful whole.

    1. That it certainly does. Straight out of a gruesome medieval "memento mori" painting from plague times.

      LOL at the Rioja wire... I squirrel away stuff like this all the time, usually there's a substantial gap between doing so and eventually using the item...

  12. Damn. That's one gorgeous regiment.

  13. Wonderful post Matt. I see these and immediately think of Holbein's 'Dance Macabre' and especially Durer's 'Death Riding'. Lovely old skool minis here. I especially like your treatment of 'Serratus the Reaper'. I also had to smile at your use of Rioja wire - I've been using the cork foil for flags but keep loosing it, which of course calls for the drinking of more Rioja...

  14. As always each model, and the whole unit look sublime. Really enjoyed the in-depth thoughts on the mythical inspirations.