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HOME : Chinese Art : Tang Horses : Tang period terracotta figure of a horse
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Tang period terracotta figure of a horse - X.0408
Origin: China
Circa: 618 AD to 906 AD
Dimensions: 15.5" (39.4cm) high x 16.125" (41.0cm) wide
Collection: Chinese
Medium: Painted Terracotta

Location: Great Britain
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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 majestic creature. 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. - (X.0408)


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