A Pottery Prancing Figure of a Horse

Tang Dynasty, first half of the 8th century
Reference #: P6859

Length: 22 ½ inches (57.15 cm)
Depth: 7 inches (17.78 cm)
Height: 22 inches (55.88 cm)

A generously proportioned pottery figure posed with one leg raised in a prancing position and firmly-planted hind legs. The beautifully modeled face exhibiting an animated and agitated air expressed by high arched brows, large deep set eyes, flared nostrils, and strong jaw, the mouth opened in a low whinny to reveal a full set of teeth. The deeply scored legs and shoulders emphasize the physicality of the horse, suggesting strength, agility, and endurance. Painted with white slip.

The Tang dynasty marked the beginning of the production of naturalistic figures, as opposed to the much more stylized mingqi of the Northern dynasties. This pair dates from the height of this period and is a striking example of powerful modeling from what became the most prolific period of pottery figural production. Made in white pottery from molds then detailed by hand, each of these figures exhibits a studied naturalism that evolved from the seventh to the eighth century. As explained in an earlier publication, “Robust, but well-muscled, elegant but strong, spirited but obedient, these sculptures of horses embody the Tang ideal of superior horseflesh, prized possessions of emperors, aristocrats, and military leaders. Those who possessed the finest mounts in life were provided with the biggest, most lavishly decorated tomb figurines of horses. As in earlier periods, burials in the Tang dynasty were regulated according to the rank of the deceased, and though it is clear that these rules were occasionally broken or ignored, it is fair to say that extremely large or lavishly decorated tomb figurines were placed in the tombs of those of high rank.”1

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