The Tang Dynasty was a golden age of
Chinese culture. The arts reached new levels
of sophistication. Poetry and literature
flourished under the enlightened rulership.
The Silk Road brought fortunes into China on
the backs of camels, carrying exotic luxury
items from distant lands. Foreign merchants
from across Central Asia and the Middle East
settled in the urban centers of the Tang China,
foremost among them the thriving capital of
Chang’an (modern X’ian), a bustling
cosmopolitan center of over two million
inhabitants. The Tang Dynasty was a relatively
stable period of great prosperity representing
one of the greatest cultural flourishings in
The great influence of the horse throughout
the history of China cannot be
underestimated. In fact, the ancient unification
of the Chinese Empire was due in large part to
the speed and stamina of the horse. Their
rapid mobility allowed for quick
communication between far away 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) encouraged the development of
the Silk Road.
The importance of the horse in the history and
culture of China can be viewed, in part,
through the artistic legacy of this great
civilization. In sculpture, painting, and
literature, horses were glorified and revered,
believed to be relatives of dragons, a theory
reflecting their sacred status within society.
The adoration that Chinese society held for
the horse during the Tang era can be seen in
their burial art. Horse models excavated from
mausoleums of the period are among the most
splendid and easily recognizable works of
This graceful sculpture of horse dates to the
early part of the Tang Dynasty. The legs,
torso, and head of the horse were individually
molded and then attached together to form
the completed work. The body of the horse
has been painted white, while the detachable
saddle has been colored a light red hue that
was probably originally much more vibrant.
The detachable saddle and other stylistic
features, such as the stance and the tilt of the
neck, are rare and highly valued by collectors.
A rider carved from a less durable material
such as wood may have once rested atop the