This beautifully modelled horse with its rich chestnut coat and realistically modelled cream mane and tail captures the spirit and power of this celebrated animal. Horses are among the most admired animals in China, where they were seen as representing strength, speed and endurance. The most magnificent horses, immortalized in Chinese literature and the visual arts, were the Ferghana horses introduced into central China from the West during the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). These were the so-called 'celestial' horses, also sometimes known as 'blood-sweating' horses, known for their speed, power and stamina. The renowned court artist Han Gan (720-60) changed the nature of Chinese horse painting when he depicted one of Emperor Xuanzong's (r. 847-59) favorite horses, Night-Shining White (now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art), in a realistic rather than supernatural manner. This development parallels the realsim of Tang arts in general, exemplified by this magnificent horse.
Elaborately caparisoned sancai horses of this imposing size are found in two postures: standing foursquare facing forward and foursquare with the head turned to the left and ears cocked. The present horse is modelled in the latter, more graceful and animated pose.
A highly unusual feature of this horse is the saddle cloth stamped with florets. The decoration on the cloth can be compared to textiles of contemporary date. See, for example, the two Tang guaze fragments printed with similar florets illustrated in Zhongguo Meishu Quanji (The Great Treasury of Chinese Fine Arts), vol. 6, Arts and Crafts - Textiles, Beijing, 1985, p. 142, no. 131 and p. 144, no. 133. Large sancai-glazed horses of this type are more commonly shown with a saddle cloth textured in imitation of fur or tied in knots on either side of the saddle blanket. A comparable example with a simulated-fur saddle blanket was included in the Min Chiu Society exhibition of Ancient Chinese Ceramics, Hong Kong, 1980, no. 13. See, also, E. Schloss, Ancient Chinese Ceramic Sculpture, Stamford, Connecticut, 1977, vol. II, col. pl. V; Mayuyama, Seventy Years, Tokyo, vol. 1, 1976, pl. 202; Oriental Ceramics, The World's Great Collections, vol. 1, Tokyo, 1982, in the Tokyo National Museum, col. pl. 64; and M. Prodan, The Art of the Tang Potter, New York, 1960, col. pl. 1, in the Count Cesore Cicogna Collection.
The result of Oxford Authentication Ltd. thermoluminescence test no. C103s92 is consistent with the dating of this lot.