Pair of Tang Horses


618 AD to 906 AD


27.25″ (69.2cm) high


Painted Terracotta



Gallery Location



These magnificent museum-quality sculptures have survived in almost perfect condition, and would grace any collection. Standing at c. 69 cm high, their finely modeled features and exquisitely observed anatomical detail makes this pair of Tang Dynasty horses one of the most instantly recognisable – and desirable – icons of Chinese art. This matching set of terracotta horses was created with extreme attention to musculoskeletal topography and surface anatomy. Both horses have short tails, dressed with dressage- style precision, as well as trimmed manes and backwards-sweeping forelocks. They bear detachable saddles with multi- layer detailing and high pommels, and added incised decoration to the saddle blankets. One of the horses is a model of noble serenity, with dipped chin and generally peaceful demeanour; the other, while possessed of similarly poised body posture, has been depicted with open mouth and raised head, thus conveying a more excited – or perhaps martial – image. Both retain much of their original paintwork, including detailing of the eye, eyelashes and mouth. This admiration the Chinese held for the horse can clearly been seen in this pair and the true artistry of the Tang Dynasty shines through. The importance of horses to ancient Chinese culture cannot be overstated, and is perhaps nowhere better expressed than in these magnificent Tang Dynasty sculptures. The most sought-after steeds were known as “blood-sweating horses”; raised in the western kingdom of Ferghana, they were sent in great numbers as tribute to the emperor. Horses also were a sign of wealth: strict sumptuary laws limited the use of the horses to people of a certain rank and even those serving in the military, such as the hooded soldier saluting from astride this horse, had to provide their own mount. In fact, the ancient unification of the Chinese Empire was due in large part to the horse as their rapid mobility allowed for quick communication between distant provinces. Likewise, the military role of horses aided in the conquest and submission of distant lands. The need to import stronger, faster steeds from Central Asia (as opposed to the native Mongol pony) led to the creation of the Silk Road. It is this atmosphere that China saw one of its ‘golden’ eras flourish.

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