A Lively Terracotta Prancing Horse, China, Tang Dynasty, 618-907 AD

From the Fongxian area of Shangxi Province in North Central China, comes the largest of prancing horses made during the Tang Dynasty. Their incredibly strong necks, aquiline heads and beautifully rounded and defined bodies make them among the most sought after style from any region.  This spirited example is portrayed standing with three long legs on an integrated plinth, the right foreleg raised, head turned to the the left, mouth open and ears high and alert.  The body is beautifully sculpted with strong, muscular torso, graceful neck and fine facial detail.   Real horse hair would have been inserted into the open ridge running the length of the neck.   Such horses were prized for their spirit and vitality resulting in a very dynamic sculptural form of a quality rarely achieved at other centers in China during the Tang period.

Background:  The frequency and exceptional sculptural quality of the pottery horses found in Tang burials testifies to the importance attributed to the animal by contemporary society.  It is possible this horse may have represented one of the foreign dancing horses that performed for Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712-756 AD) on the occasion of his birthday, to wish him long life. According to Zhang Yue (667-731AD) - a leading court official - these heavenly horses came from west of the sea and danced with bent knees and holding cups in their mouths “…nimbly prancing, they keep in step with the music…” A sign of status and wealth, this horse was probably originally interred in a Tang dynasty high ranking burial and was believed to bestow immortality on the occupant.  

In 1972, similarly postured horses were excavated from Tang tombs of Zhang Shigui, an attendant of emperor Taizong (r. 629-649 AD). Comparable examples can also be found in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Acc. No: 67.62.2), the British Museum, London and Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (LI1301.409).

Condition:  Considerable white and red pigments remain, some black, and some earthen and dendrite deposits. Light paint chipping, left ear restored, head and legs all reattached. A nice, large example.

Dimensions: Height:  20.5 inches (53 cm)

Provenance: Private NYC collection, acquired in the 1980's.


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