Glazed Ceramic Tang-Horse
9" x 15" x 5.5"
This graceful terra-cotta figurine of a horse saddled, bridled, and ready for action, dates from the 19th century, though the roots of such objects can be traced back to China’s Tang dynasty (618–907). This period of Chinese history was a high-point for art, culture, trade, economic expansion, and military conquest. Benevolent rulership allowed for China to become one of the greatest empires of the medieval world, where wealth and prosperity allowed the arts to flourish. A favourite subject of painters and sculptors of the period was horses in motion, which represented wealth and the aristocracy, as well as power and strength. As such, representations of horses were common in burial practices and tomb decoration, especially for emperors and the elite. In Chinese religion and spirituality, the tomb was considered a space between life and the afterlife, where part of the human soul remained and required the same amenities afforded to a person in life. Artifacts and figurines designed specifically for burial were known as mingqi or “objects to be used by the spirit.” Sculptures of horses owned in life were organic and animated, featuring high levels of anatomical accuracy and artistry. They were also crafted using the highly durable, expensive, and skillful sancai (three-colour) glazing technique, which yielded bright blues, browns, greens, and yellows against a white body, which can be seen replicated in this astonishing object.
At this time in China, the country had to contend with excessive flooding in the valleys of the Yellow, Yangtze, and Huai Rivers. This event, which would become known as the 1931 China Floods, affected the lives of as many as 53 million people. Hundreds of thousands lost their lives, making this the deadliest natural disaster ever recorded. The flooding also brought about vast economic and agricultural devastation, in part because approximately 15% of wheat and rice crops were destroyed in Yangtze Valley.