Horses were important during the Tang Dynasty and were both the reward of successful military expeditions and the foundation of imperial stability. Brought to China by means of the international Silk Road trade network, horses were also a sign of wealth, with strict laws in place limiting the use of horses to people of a certain rank, and even those serving in the military had to provide their own mount. The different colours of horses also appear to have been of particular importance to the Tang emperors, whose favourite horses are described by their colouration. The Tang Emperors Taizong and Xuanzong both commemorated their horses through artistic depictions, with the specific colouring of the horse of vital importance. Prominent painters of the period, such as Han Gan, specialised in painting horses and thus, they appear as a popular artistic motif of the period. 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 (冥器) in Chinese, and depict servants, officials, soldiers, musicians, court attendants, dancers and, in the case of animals, horses and Bactrian camels.
Tang Dynasty Caparisoned Horse
A Tang Dynasty hollow-moulded terracotta horse shown with its neck stretched upwards, as it stands erect on an integral rectangular base. The animal is portrayed in the caparisoned style, richly decorated with ornate piriform adornments to the collar and crupper strap. A moulded saddle rests on a folded cloth on the horse’s back, painted in orange, yellow and brown respectively, with the blanket further enriched by circular motifs rendered in dark pigmentation. The majority of the black, red and white slip remains on the horse’s body, emphasising the naturalistically moulded features: the strong physique, the alert pupils, and the delicately engraved muzzle. The bristling mane is cropped and neatly groomed, with the tail dressed with a ribbon.
This piece is accompanied by a positive Kotalla Laboratory thermoluminescence report and has been checked against the Interpol Database of stolen works of art: AIAD certificate number no.10837-178532.
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Period: Tang Dynasty
Provenance: From a West Country, UK, collection; formerly with a Bath, UK, gallery, 1990s.
Condition: Excellent condition, with good retention of the original pigmentation; some earthy encrustations and signs of ageing on the surface.