As early as the Pleistocene epoch the animal we know today as the Przewalski horse was to be found on the steppelands of north China. The domestication of the horse in China is believed to have begun in the Neolithic period, and it is from this time that the earliest artistic representations of horses have been found. Horses are shown in considerable variety and number among cave paintings dating to both the Neolithic and the Bronze Age from Inner Mongolia and Gansu province, while stone carvings showing lifelike horses have been found at Bronze Age sites at Bayan Urad, Dengkou county, Inner Mongolia. One of the carvings from this site shows a man riding a horse.
From these beginnings the Chinese spiritual and artistic preoccupation with the horse developed. Horses were valued, not only as animals that could be ridden, but as dray animals and, perhaps most importantly, as creatures of war. The use of horses to draw war chariots and as steeds for cavalry proved crucial in China's internal and external conflicts.
The Chinese belief in the afterlife and the concern with providing the deceased with those items essential for his or her well-being in the world after death has ensured that abundant evidence has been preserved attesting to the importance of the horse in ancient China.
Perhaps the most universally admired ceramic horses are those, like the current example, made for the tombs of the Tang dynasty (AD 618-907) aristocracy. These horses, representing wealth and power, played a significant part in emphasising the importance of the occupant of the tomb. These were not just war horses or horses used for transport, but were also horses employed in leisure activities. Polo, for example, was a popular pursuit at the Tang court and was played by both men and women. It was specifically encouraged by two Tang emperors, Taizong and Xuanzong, as being excellent for development of certain useful skills. The horses depicted are the revered 'blood-sweating' horses, which were introduced into central China from the West during the Han dynasty. These Ferghana horses were known for their speed, power and stamina, qualities which are brought out by the ceramic artist.
The ceramic horses of the Tang dynasty were either decorated with sancai (three-color) glazes, like the current example, or were unglazed and cold-painted. Both techniques were extremely successful. The sancai glazes produced brilliant, lasting colors, emphasizing the horses' powerful bodies and elaborate sprig-moulded trappings.
The dating of this lot is consistent with the result of the Laboratory Ralf Kotalla thermoluminescence test no. 20150802.