Some of the oldest horse figurines in the world are the clay horse sculptures of the Chinese. Ever since its domestication in northeastern China over 5,000 years ago, the horse has played a major role in warfare, leisure activities sport and art.
Many artists chose the horse as a model and there are numerous wonderful horse pieces from the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD).
Numerous clay figures of horses and cavaliers that date to the Tang Dynasty have been unearthed from the graves of the Shen-si and Ho-nan provinces.
There are notable differences in the portrayal of the horse from each province.
Those of Shen-si usually represent the bare horse in a sober and mechanical conception. While the clay horses of Ho-nan are more realistic. The horses are always harnessed, in a variety of poses affected particularly by manifold turns of the neck.
The Clay Horse Sculptures of Sen-si:
Among seven clay horses of miniature size acquired at Si-ngan fu, six are almost identical, while the seventh is differentiated only in that the mane is coarsely fashioned.
This photo of a saddled clay horse sculpture was excavated in Lung chou, prefecture of Feng-siang, province of Shen-si. It stands is 27.5 cm tall. It is an exception to the more crudely designed sculptures, being somewhat better shaped, and coated with soft lead glazes in three colors – a deep brown, a light yellow, and a plant green. Also, the saddle and saddle cloth are represented and the saddle is padded with a textile material gracefully draped on both sides.
The Clay Horse Sculptures of Ho-nan:
The Ho-nan horses, on the other hand, appeal to us by the gracefulness of their motions, and the variety of actions in which they are represented. Also the details of the harness are better and more efficiently worked out.
The following clay figures of horses are typical examples of the finer work of the Ho-nan artists.
This 30.0 cm tall horse figure appears with complete harness and upright mane. The head is very well modeled. Although the pose is somewhat stiff, the potter seems to have attempted to represent the animal as though mourning for its deceased master.
This horse with complete harness is also mourning for its dead master. The trappings with their metal ornaments, the tinkling bells on the breast band, as well as the designs of lotuses on the crupper, are neatly molded in relief. This clay horse is 32 cm tall.
This last example of the clay horse figures from Ho-Nan is the largest of those represented here, standing 80 cm tall. This piece was discovered in the spring of 1910 during the cuttings for a railroad north of the city of Ho-nan fu. It is a fragmentary figure of horse, notable for its unusual dimensions and its perfect lead glazing.
The natural coloration of the animal is reproduced by a light-yellow soft lead glaze while the mane is brown. The saddle is glazed a plant green with the double saddle-cloth underneath it a dark brown intermingled with green. The seat of the saddle is padded with a material arranged in graceful drapery.
The ornamental metal pieces attached to the headstall, the breast band, and cruppers are glazed green.
The design which is brought out on these is characteristic of the T’ang period, and found also as relief decoration on coeval pottery vases.
For some interesting information about the horse in Chinese History, visit the Kentucky Horse Park International Museum of the Horse.
Of particular interest are the colorfully glazed clay horse sculptures of the Tang Dynasty that were included in this special exhibit.
P.S. The Kentucky Horse Park has published a book about the museum’s Imperial China exhibition complete with stunning photographs of the horse art, including bronze fittings, chariots, swords, and gold ornaments from the Western and Eastern Zhou dynasties, earthern wares from the Qin dynasty, and numerous Tang, Yuan and Ming glazed terracotta sculptures. Get your copy of Imperial China : The Art of the Horse in Chinese History today!