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Gallery Text

Valued for their strength and endurance, horses symbolized wealth and power in ancient China; in a funerary context, they were believed to transport souls to the next world. Made specifically for burial in a tomb, this sculpture is exceptionally important for several reasons: its large size, brilliant glaze, near-perfect condition, and Romanstyle bridle ornaments. The bridle sports five circular medallions, each with a human face. Their number, placement, and decoration accord exactly with Roman convention and thus provide evidence of early Western influence in China. Horses were especially prized by rulers of the Han dynasty for their military value, as cavalry warfare was used to fend off frequent attacks of nomadic invaders. In the second century BCE, campaigns to procure Central Asian horses led to both the expansion of the Han Empire’s borders and to increased contact between China and the nations to its west along the Silk Road.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
2004.211.A-E
Title
Standing Saddled Horse with Clipped Mane, Cropped and Tied Tail, and Roman-Style Bridle Ornaments
Classification
Sculpture
Work Type
sculpture
Date
probably 2nd century
Places
Creation Place: East Asia, China, Sichuan province
Period
Han dynasty, Eastern Han period, 25-220 CE
Culture
Chinese
Location
Level 1, Room 1600, Early Chinese Art, Arts of Ancient China from the Bronze Age to the Golden Age
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Physical Descriptions
Medium
Lead-glazed ware: Molded, brick red earthenware with lead-fluxed, caramel brown glaze, the detachable, unglazed tail and saddle molded in brick red earthenware, the detachable, unglazed ears molded in gray earthenware, the unglazed elements displaying traces of cold-painted pigments. From Sichuan province, probably from the Chengdu region.
Dimensions
H. 121.5 x L. 90.5 x D. 33 cm (47 13/16 x 35 5/8 x 13 in.)
Provenance
[R. H. Ellsworth Ltd., New York, 2004] gift; to Harvard University Art Museums, 2004.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of R. H. Ellsworth Ltd. in memory of Phyllis and C. Douglas Dillon
Accession Year
2004
Object Number
2004.211.A-E
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Descriptions

Label Text: Re-View: S228-230 Arts of Asia , written 2008
Made expressly for burial in a brick-walled, chambered tomb, this sculpture is exceptionally important for several reasons: its large size, caramel brown glaze, near-perfect condition, and Roman-style bridle ornaments. The bridle sports five circular medallions, each boasting a human face at its center. The number, placement, and decoration of the medallions accord exactly with Roman convention; the bridle thus stands as evidence of the early influence from the West that reached China via the Silk Route. Introduced to China from Fergana in the second century BC, large Arabian horses of this type were preferred over the indigenous Mongolian-type ponies that had been used in previous centuries. Known as “thousand-mile horses” (qianli ma), the horses from Fergana were prized for their strength and endurance. They came to symbolize wealth and power; in a burial context, the horse was believed to transport the soul to the next world.

Label Text: Evocative Creatures: Animal Motifs and Symbols in East Asian Art , written 2005
Made expressly for burial in a brick-walled, chambered tomb, this sculpture is exceptionally important for several reasons: its large size, caramel brown glaze, near-perfect condition, and Roman-style bridle ornaments. The bridle sports five circular medallions, each boasting a human face at its center. The number, placement, and decoration of the medallions accord exactly with Roman convention; the bridle thus stands as evidence of the early influence from the West that reached China via the Silk Route. Introduced to China from Fergana in the second century BC, large Arabian horses of this type were preferred over the indigenous Mongolian-type ponies that had been used in previous centuries. Known as “thousand-mile horses” (qianli ma), the horses from Fergana were prized for their strength and endurance. They came to symbolize wealth and power; in a burial context, the horse was believed to transport the soul to the next world.

Publication History

Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums Annual Report 2004-2005 (Cambridge, MA, 2005), p. 10

Suzanne G. Valenstein, Cultural Convergence in the Northern Qi Period: A Flamboyant Chinese Ceramic Container, A Research Monograph, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 2007), pp. 49, 129, figs. 81-82

Exhibition History

Re-View: S228-230 Arts of Asia, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 05/31/2008 - 06/01/2013

Re-View: S228-230 (Asian rotation: 6), Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 05/24/2011 - 11/12/2011

32Q: 1600 Early China II, Harvard Art Museums, 11/01/2014

Subjects and Contexts

Collection Highlights

Google Art Project

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu