Early Tang Painted Pottery Horse with Detachable Rider

SKU DL.2098

618 AD to 906 AD


14.3″ (36.3cm) high x 12.5″ (31.8cm) wide





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The important influence of the horse throughout the history of China cannot be underestimated. In fact, the ancient expansion of the Chinese Empire was due in a large part to the horse. The rapid mobility of horses allowed for enhanced communication between distant provinces. Likewise, the military role of horses facilitated the conquest and submission of other lands as well as securing the borders against barbarian invaders. The need to import stronger, faster steeds from Central Asia (as opposed to the local Mongol pony) contributed to the creation of trading routes along what became known as the Silk Road. The significance of the horse in the history and culture of China can be viewed, in part, through the artistic legacy of this great civilisation. In sculpture, painting and literature, horses are frequently glorified and revered as distant relatives of sacred, mythological dragons.

During the Tang dynasty the adoration of the horse is evident in their burial art. Horse models excavated from mausoleums of the period are among the most celebrated and splendid works of Chinese art. Naturally, owing to their rarity, horses became a status symbol for the aristocratic elite. Polo and other equestrian pastimes became popular. This sculpture, depicting a lady-in-waiting on horseback, is remarkable for several reasons. Firstly, the lady and saddle detach from the body of the horse in one piece. Small traces of the original polychromy remain, most visibly on the lady’s red lips. She wears a long sleeved dress, a type of which was used in a popular dance where the lady swirls the excess of fabric around in the air. Unusually, the horse is depicted with its head raised, ears upright, and nostrils flaring. It intimidates us with its open mouth and visible teeth. Remarkably the lady-in-waiting seems unaffected by whatever has startled her steed and retains her dignified pose.

The majority of Tang horses were produced to accompany the deceased throughout the afterlife. The striking beauty of this work is even more impressive, considering that it was created specifically for internment and was not supposed to be seen by the living. Today, we marvel in the beauty of this sculpture as much as its tremendous history and intriguing legacy.

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