War horses were the pride of the Tang (AD 618-
907), a dynasty of prosperity, military expansion
and artistic achievement.
As representatives of sculptures in terracotta,
they have timeless appeal, their stylised arched
necks, pricked ears and heavy torsos exude
confidence, distinction and charm.
The great influence of the horse throughout the
history of China cannot be underestimated either.
In fact, the enormous geographic expansion of
the Chinese Empire was in large part due to the
presence of horses. The rapid mobility of horses
allowed for quick communication between far
away provinces. Likewise, the military role of
horses largely contributed in the conquest and
submission of distant lands. In terracotta
sculpture, painting, and literature, horses were
glorified and revered.
During the Tang Dynasty, the adoration of the
horse may also be noticed through their burial
customs and funerary art of the period. Horse
models excavated from Tang period tombs are
among the most splendid and easily recognizable
works of Chinese art. This horse has an elegant
red coat as well as a painted numnah (saddle
blanket). In addition, its head is turned to the
side, a rare feature that allows us to become
aware of the reverence the Chinese held for this
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 and the other accoutrements
that fascinated the Tang aristocracy
The horse here depicted is of 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 horses.