Han Dynasty (206-220)
China: Dawn of a Golden Age, Metropolitan Museum of Art 2004, no. 80, p. 176.
A free-standing wooden horse painted white with red, black, and yellow pigments, a powerful body carved on sturdy legs, an elongated head with mouth open, exposing large white teeth and expressive, strongly molded lips, with carved bridle painted red, its mane cropped but tail left long. With a geometric-patterned saddle blanket in black paint, with red saddle flap and black seat.
An example of a newly-developed style of the Han dynasty that favored abstraction over naturalism¹, this rare wooden figure was likely excavated from Mawangdui, near Changsha, Hunan Province. Wooden figurines were often placed in tombs during the Western Han dynasty as part of an ancient burial practice, ming-ch’i,² where the dead were buried with miniaturized replicas of items that they had possessed in life. These items were meant to follow the spirit of the deceased into the afterlife, thus ensuring that all earthly comforts were also available to the deceased. Very few wooden figures from this era survive because of the extremely perishable nature of the material.