Han Sculpture of a Horse

SKU H.731
Circa

206 BC to 220 AD

Dimensions

11″ (27.9cm) high

Medium

Terracotta

Origin

China

Gallery Location

S Korea


 

The impact of the horse on the history of China cannot be underestimated. In fact, the ancient unification and expansion of the Chinese Empire was due in large part to this majestic creature. Their rapid mobility enabled quick correspondence between far away provinces, allowing the establishment of a centralized power. Likewise, the military role of horses aided in the conquest and submission of distant lands. The influence of the horse on the history and culture of China can be viewed, in part, through the artistic legacy of this great civilization. Believed to be relatives of mythological dragons, a theory reflecting their sacred status, horses were glorified and revered in sculpture, painting, and literature. During the unification of China under the Han Dynasty, bands of mounted nomadic warriors from the north threatened the country. In order to thwart their attacks, the Chinese imported stronger, faster steeds from Central Asia (as opposed to the native Mongol ponies) eventually leading to the creation of the Silk Road. In ancient China, owning a horse required wealth and status. Eventually, they became signs of one’s social standing. Equestrian activities such as polo further encouraged the indulgence of the wealthy few who owned horses. This terracotta sculpture of a horse captures the bold lines and strong muscularity of the horse. During the Han Dynasty, the horse was rendered in miniature sculptural form specifically in order to be interred with the dead. It was believed that the sculpted version could assume the powers of its living counterpart in the afterlife and assist the deceased in the dangerous journey to the next world. This custom catered to the needs of a particular belief system regarding life after death and the spiritual world. Not only is this sculpture an ancient answer to an eternal question that continues to plague us even today, but it is also a stunning work of art of tremendous historical and cultural significance.

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