Exhibition Artifacts (Part 4)
13. Tri-Colored Horse
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).
Read about and discuss the importance of the horse in Chinese history, especially during the Tang Dynasty.
14. Mounted Hunters
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Illustrations Courtesy of Yvonne Todd
Kentucky Horse Park
International Museum of the Horse
The Millennium's First Great
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