During the Tang dynasty, the accumulation of numerous wealthy and worldly individuals with large amount of leisure time in a few cities created a true metropolitan elite that demanded an abundance of exotic luxury items, thus defining a new aesthetic taste and fashion.
As sculptural representations of the fashions of the time, the highest quality painted pottery mingqi tended to be more successful than those glazed. While sancai objects required greater expenditure of material and labour, the application of the glaze meant that the replication of fine details in drapery and physiognomy would have got lost or overseen in favour of the rich glaze. Because of the requirements of the glazing process, sancai pieces tended to be less freely sculpted while for painted pottery the artisans felt best able to explore the details of the face, the garments and over all decoration, hairstyle and the other accoutrements that fascinated the Tang aristocracy.
The horse depicted would have belonged to a large and spirited breed much sought after by the Chinese. Originating in the grasslands of Inner Asia, such horses were much larger than the pony native to China, hence valued for their speed and nobility. Indeed owing a horse became a privilege in Tang China when, in 667 an edict decreed that only aristocrats (of both sexes) could ride them.
Leisure-rich aristocrats then amused themselves playing sports (in this case polo) and hunting. And such activities were not limited to men but more than often involved the partecipation of women. This female rider, with her high waisted long red tunic, and an arm raised, her hand possibly brandishing a stick that is no more there, as to hit the ball, beautifully reflects the aura of novelty and gender exploration that permeated the Tang period. The colourful dresses, hairstyles and ornamentation provide us with an insight into the aethetic tastes and fashion consideration of the time, carrying us into a past-time of amusements of exotic flavour.