Pottery figures of polo players fall into two categories: dynamic riders seated on horses shown in full "flying gallop", with no support or stand, and elegant riders seated stiffly on horses standing on a rectangular base. The present figures belong to the first category, as do the four similar figures of female polo players in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, referred to in Handbook of the Collections, vol. II, Art of the Orient, Kansas City, 1973, p. 81. See, also, the figure in the Tenri Museum in Japan, illustrated by Hasebe and Sato, Sekai toji zenshu, vol. 11, Tokyo, 1976, pl. 183.
The earliest literary and visual evidence of polo in China dates from the 7th and 8th centuries, including stories of polo-playing emperors and members of the imperial family. A mural depicting a game of polo, datable to the years AD 706-11, found in the tomb of Li Xian, Crown Prince Zhanghuai (AD 654-84), is discussed and illustrated by J. Fontein and Wu Tung in Han and Tang Murals, Boston, 1976, p. 101, nos. 122-25, col. pl. 15. For a full discussion of polo see, Robert Harrist, Jr., Power and Virtue, The Horse in Chinese Art, China Institute in America, New York, 1997, pp. 74-75, nos. 11 and 12. Also see Colin Mackenzie and Irving Finkel (eds.), Asian Games: The Art of Contest, Asia Society, New York, 2004, pp. 282-303, where the authors note, p. 285, that many women played polo and according to the poet Wang Jian (c. 751-830), "they were especially noted for their deftness at executing back-hand shots." This is corroborated by ceramic tomb figures of female polo players which show them appropriately dressed in close-fitting attire.
The result of Oxford thermoluminescence test no. 566p1 is consistent with the dating of this lot.