Cavallo, Marco
First name:
20th century
Field of expertise:
Fine arts
Place of birth:
Trieste (ITA)
Biography print

Sculpture symbolising the psychiatric reform in Italy.


Marco Cavallo is the name of the sculpture of an outsized blue horse, created in 1973 by patients, artists and staff at San Giovanni, the mental asylum in Trieste (Italy). This sculpture symbolises the deinstitutionalisation of psychiatric services in parts of Italy, as a result of which many psychiatric institutions were downsized or closed altogether.

Franco Basaglia, the then director of San Giovanni asylum, had already initiated several other art projects involving patients and staff. Supported by his cousin, the artist Vittorio Basaglia, and the stage director Giulio Scaba, Basaglia tried to improve conditions for both patients and staff. The “inside world” should be enabled to “reappropriate the outside world from which it had been banned” (Scabia 1976/1979: 20). To this end, different groups of professionals came together outside the institution to call attention to the unacceptable conditions behind the asylum walls (cf. Theunissen 2004: 160). Their activities included flyer and wall newspaper campaigns and a “flying theatre” (“teatro volante”; cf. Baumgarten 1979). The sculpture Marco Cavallo is also part of this history.


Construction and symbolism

Marco Cavallo was created in 1973 and consists of a wooden frame on wheels. This basic structure is covered with papier-mâché painted in sky-blue. The name was chosen in reference to the asylum’s late horse, also called Marco, that used to transport laundry and waste to facilities outside the asylum. Some patients had a close relationship to this animal and noted that Marco was one of the few “residents” allowed to leave the asylum premises on a regular basis. The horse thus symbolised “a process of liberation for all those suffering under the living conditions at the asylum” (Scabia 1976/1979: 5). Accompanied by around 400 patients, the sculpture was first presented in public on 25 March 1973 at the San Vito festival in Trieste. Due to Marco Cavallo’s sheer height of more than three metres, an opening in the asylum’s perimeter wall had to be cut specifically for this occasion.

The sculpture is a reminder of the legend of the “Trojan horse” in Homer’s Iliad where a giant wooden horse was used to hide Greek soldiers and smuggle them into the city of Troy. Leading the way from the asylum to the outside world, Marco Cavallo helped to overcome walls in the opposite direction.



Baumgarten, M., W. Schulz (eds.) (1979): Die Freiheit wächst auf keinem Baum. Theaterkollektive zwischen Volkstheater und Animation. Berlin: Medusa.

Basaglia, F., F. Basaglia-Ongaro (eds.) (1972): Morire di classe. La condizione manicomiale fotografata da Carla Cerati e Gianni Berengo Gardin. Turin: Einaudi.

Basaglia, F. (1977): Macht das Tor auf! Die Vergesellschaftung der psychiatrischen Anstalt am Beispiel Triest. In: Neues Forum 285, pp. 39-43.

Cohen, A., A. Kleinman, B. Saraceno (2002): World Mental Health Casebook. Social and Mental Programs in Low-Income Countries. New York: Kluwer Academic.

Forgacs, D. (2014): Italy’s Margins: Social Exclusion and Nation Formation since 1861. New York: Cambridge University Press.

König, M. (2010): Franco Basaglia und das Gesetz 180. Die Auflösung der psychiatrischen Anstalten in Italien 1978. In: P. Terhoeven (ed.): Italien, Blicke. Neue Perspektiven der italienischen Geschichte des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, pp. 209-233.

Scabia, G. (1976): Marco Cavallo. Un’ esperienza di animazione in un ospedale psichiatrico. Turin: Einaudi [German edition: Das große Theater des Marco Cavallo. Phantasiearbeit in der Psychiatrischen Klinik Triest. Vorwort von Franco Basaglia. Frankfurt on the Main: Suhrkamp 1979].

Theunissen, G. (2004): Kunst und geistige Behinderung. Bildnerische Entwicklung. Ästhetische Erziehung. Kunstunterricht. Kulturarbeit. Bad Heilbrunn: Klinkhardt.


Julian Schwarz


Photo: Damiano Skrbec (2010), Copyright.


Referencing format
Julian Schwarz (2015): Cavallo, Marco.
In: Biographisches Archiv der Psychiatrie.
(retrieved on:16.07.2024)