Skip Navigation

 

Exhibition Artifacts (Part 4)
Artifacts 13-16

Art of the Horse logo

Artifacts section:   Part 1   |   Part 2   |   Part 3   |   Part 4


13. Tri-Colored Horse
Tang Dynasty, ca. 618-906 AD
Glazed pottery
(H) 72 cm, (L) 88 cm
Shaanxi History Museum

Description

This horse is completely equipped with tack, bridle, bit, reins, and an elaborate saddle. It has beautiful decorations, including apricot-leaf designs covering the leather bands on its chest and across its back. The horse, standing on a square stepping board, is glazed yellow, green, and white. The mane is highly stylized and appears to have been combed; the tail is short and turns upwards. This is an excellent example of the Tang Dynasty three-colored horse sculptures which have become so popular in the West.

During the Tang Dynasty, the horse symbolized status and military power. As northerners, the Tang understood the military importance of the cavalry. Horses enjoyed a special position at court. When the Tang took power, they owned only 5,000 cavalry horses, but within 50 years that number had grown to 706,000. Each horse was assigned to a herd of 120 and branded as "flying," "dragon," or "wind" class (war, post, or royal mount, respectively).

Discussion Questions

  1. Describe the horse's tack, decorations, and grooming (saddle, bridle, mane, forelock, tail). What do they tell you about the horse's importance and value?
  2. Who might have owned this horse? Would he have been flying, dragon or wind class? Explain.
  3. Why would this figure have been placed in a tomb?

Suggested Activity

Read about and discuss the importance of the horse in Chinese history, especially during the Tang Dynasty.


14. Mounted Hunters
Tang Dynasty, ca. 618-906 AD
Glazed pottery (set of five pieces)
(H) 33-37 cm, (L) 34-35 cm
Shaanxi Xi'an Municipal Relics Collection and Archaeological Research Center

Description

The bearded male hunter holds a tethered hawk or falcon on his raised arm. His facial features and beard indicate that he is a foreigner, probably from central Asia. Foreigners from many parts of the world were valued members of society during the Tang. The female hunter, with a round face, delicate features, and hair arranged in side buns, appears to be Chinese (from the Han people). A lynx or cheetah sits on a pad behind her saddle. The horses look strong and muscular. Note the "spotted blanket" color of the lady's horse. Throughout history, spotted horses have been valued by all peoples.

The horse was a symbol of status and power to the Tang. Riding was reserved for the nobility and scholars -- it was forbidden to artisans and merchants. Northern women had always enjoyed greater freedom of movement than those in the south. During the Tang, female members of court rode for pleasure and sport. Royalty, including the emperor, were active participants in hunting, polo, and dressage.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why would the figure of a foreigner be placed in a royal tomb? What does its presence tell us about the Tang people and their society?
  2. Compare the dress of the male and female hunters. What does it tell us about the status of women during this period?
  3. Compare the dress, facial features, and hairstyle of the female hunter to that of the female court figure (#11). What are the similarities and differences? Do you think they could be the same woman?
  4. Why do you think women from the north had a greater degree of movement and freedom in society?
  5. Did you know that men and women compete together in Olympic equestrian events? Why do you think this is allowed?

Suggested Activity

Learn about today's breeds of spotted horses. One of the most famous is the war horse of the Nez Perce Indians.


15. Women Musicians on Horseback
Tang Dynasty, ca. 618-906 AD
Glazed pottery (set of five pieces)
(H) 33-37 cm, (L) 34-35 cm
Shaanxi Xi'an Municipal Relics Collection and Archaeological Research Center

Description

Each woman wears a cap, a tight-sleeved robe, and pointed shoes. Their musical instruments include the Xiao (a vertical bamboo flute), cymbals, Konghou (a stringed instrument which was plucked), and drums. This figure plays the drum and has a bird sitting on her cap.

Chinese ceramics have a long history of more than 8,000 years. The oldest ceramics were practical items, utensils, and containers. In the 7th century, Tang potters invented saggars -- protective clay containers that enclosed individual wares in the kilns during firing. These allowed the production of exquisite thin-walled ceramics. Tang polychrome-glazed pottery developed from Han lead-glazed pottery. Blue, cream, yellow, amber, brown, near-black, purple, and white glazes were added to the Han green-hued colors. The famous Tang three-color (sancai) wares were generally decorated with overlapping splashes of different-colored glazes. These were allowed to flow together in the kiln, resulting in a piece that had a splendid, rich, and harmonious appearance.

Most of the Tang ceramics were made to be placed in tombs. They give us a vivid picture of daily life in this period. The brilliant glazes mirror the prosperity and rich cultural life of the Tang Dynasty. The arts, literature, and poetry flourished. Unfortunately, the common people, especially the peasants, were levied with exorbitant taxes to pay for the lavish court lifestyle. The result was peasant uprisings that eventually contributed to the downfall of the empire.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why would the musicians be on horseback?
  2. Do these figures tell us anything about how the emperor expected to live in the afterlife?
  3. Do their musical instruments sound familiar? What type of instrument is missing?

Suggested Activity

Read about the musical instruments used in China during this time. Put together a "band" similar to the one represented by these figures.


16. Horse and Rider
Yuan Dynasty, ca. 1127-1279 AD
Painted pottery
(H) 42 cm, (L) 39 cm
Shaanxi History Museum

Description

The rider is made of gray pottery and wears a helmet, a robe, and leather boots. He carries a quiver for arrows on his back and is most likely a cavalryman. The rider's hand rests on the pommel of the saddle, and his feet rest in stirrups. His flowing robe is secured with a belt. The horse's tack is beautifully detailed. The saddle has tooled-leather fenders and is secured with a crupper that fits snugly under the horse's tail, plus a breast strap in front. During this period, it was customary to wrap the end of the horse's tail. The rider's leg position is basically the same as that of riders from earlier periods who rode without stirrups. This tends to confirm that stirrups were originally primarily used for mounting and dismounting.

Stirrups, invented in China, were one of the main inventions to impact human civilization. A toe ring was used as early as 200 BC. The first modern-type stirrup was a single stirrup used on the left side for mounting and dismounting. Mounting a horse without stirrups was not an easy task: Flying leaps and pole-vaulting with a spear sometimes had disastrous results! Pairs of stirrups date from about 322 BC.

The Mongols, who ruled China during the Yuan Dynasty, were superb horsemen. They subjugated northern China, Korea, and the Muslim kingdoms of Central Asia and twice penetrated Europe. Kublai Khan, a grandson of Genghis Khan, was the supreme leader of all Mongol tribes. Marco Polo described how the Great Khan inspected his brood herd of more than 10,000 snow-white mares.

Discussion Questions

  1. From what you have learned by studying these artifacts, what is your hypothesis: Is this the figure of a cavalryman, a hunter, or a sportsman?
  2. How does the attire and tack of the Yuan horseman compare to that of the cavalrymen during the Warring States period (#5)? Which would be more efficient in battle?
  3. How would you mount a horse without a stirrup?
  4. Why do you think China was never able to breed enough horses for its cavalry?

Suggested Activities

  1. Read about Marco Polo and his travels in China (see Reading List).
  2. Read about the great Khans (see Reading List).

Illustrations Courtesy of Yvonne Todd

Artifacts section:   Part 1   |   Part 2   |   Part 3   |   Part 4


Kentucky Horse Park
International Museum of the Horse

The Millennium's First Great
International Exhibition


For additional information:
Museum and Horse Park Contacts

(c) Copyright 1999-2002, The Kentucky Horse Park
Site Design: Bill Cooke

This site was developed, written, and designed by the staff of the
International Museum of the Horse
at the Kentucky Horse Park. KET is grateful for their wonderful work
and for their permission to mirror the site.

KET LINKS

KET Home | About KET | Contact Us | Search | Terms of Use
Jobs/Internships | PressRoom | Privacy Policy |
600 Cooper Drive | Lexington, KY 40502 | (859) 258-7000 | (800) 432-0951 | © Copyright 2011 KET