The relationship between China and horses dates back to Neolithic times and the first domestication of the animal is believed to have started in the 13th century BC. Brought to China by means of the international Silk Road trade network, horses were a sign of wealth, widely used in warfare, hunting and in the aristocratic pastime of polo. Horses’ statuettes, such as this incredibly fine example, were usually meant to be grave goods to be placed in tombs. It was believed that these figures would serve and assist the deceased in the afterlife. Figures of this type are called mingqi in Chinese, and depict servants, officials, soldiers, musicians, court attendants, dancers and, in the case of animals, horses and Bactrian camels. After Emperor Xiao Wendi’s decree that moved the capital to Luoyang in 494 AD, the style of tomb sculptures altered abruptly, influenced by developments in painting in the southern courts. Thus from the late Northern Wei period, horses became more naturalistic and more richly decorated.
Northern Wei Caparisoned Horse
An extremely fine Chinese Northern Wei Dynasty hollow-moulded terracotta horse, shown standing on a squared base, with all four hooves planted to the ground. The horse is painted in white pigment and portrayed in the caparisoned style, richly decorated with apricot-leaf shaped adornments to the collar and crupper strap. The horse is modelled in an extremely naturalistic manner, with much attention given towards the rendering of facial and anatomical features. The majority of white slip remains, with additional red and black pigments, used to pick out details of the features, such as the alert pupils and the full mane. The saddle, which rests on a folded blanket, has been carefully painted in red with the blanket further enriched by a dotted decoration. Gold pigment has been applied to the harness, collar and cupper strap, adding a sense of richness to the composition.
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Period: Nothern Wei Dynasty
Condition: Excellent condition, with original pigments still visible. This piece has been thermoluminescence tested at Laboratory Kotalla.