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 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) led to the
creation 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.
During the Tang Dynasty, the adoration of the
horse can be seen through their burial art. Horse
models excavated from mausoleums of the
period are among the most splendid and easily
recognizable works of Chinese art.
This elegant, painted horse is no exception. The
downward curve of the face echoes that of the
splendid mane. It is easy to imagine this fine
steed galloping across the horizon, en route to
some distant province to deliver an official
message with its glorious red saddle.
Alternatively, it may have been the treasured
possession of a noble aristocrat who partook in
polo matches. Surely this horse, crafted with
loving care and attention to detail, was admired
as much in life as it is in its sculptural form.