During the Tang Dynasty horses were revered creatures and were considered relatives of the mythical dragon. This veneration was well earned since the speed and stamina of these majestic animals ensured the protection of the northern borders China from barbarian invaders. It also enhanced communication between far away provinces thereby aiding in the expansion of the empire. The need to import horses from Central Asia influenced the creation of the Silk Road. Horses thus became a status symbol for the aristocratic elite. Polo and other equestrian activities were popular pastimes.
This sculpture depicts an elegantly dressed man riding on the back of a white horse. The regal character of the figure reveals the connection between nobility and the horse. His garment still retains hints of its original red pigment as do his lips and the fitted headress which crowns his head (similar to a cap worn by civic officials). We can easily imagine this rider marching in part of an important ceremony.
The piece was discovered buried inside a tomb and was supposed to accompany the deceased throughout the afterlife. Today we marvel as much at its beauty as its tremendous history and intriguing legacy.