Magnificent caparisoned horses, like this one, were made to stand in the tombs of the aristocracy and wealthy members of Tang dynasty society. Their purpose was, on the one hand, to provide the deceased with all the trappings of wealth and status in the afterlife, but on the other hand their presence among the mingqi (grave goods) displayed as part of the interment rituals proclaimed to all those attending the ceremony that this was a person of great standing. They indicated the wealth not only of the deceased, but also of his or her family. Indeed such was the importance attached to these displays of wealth through expensive tomb figures, that their provision became excessive, and laws were brought in officially to regulate the mingqi appropriate for particular social strata.
One of the two most popular ways of decorating these Tang horses was 'cold-painting' - that is painting the fired, glazed or unglazed, figure with pigments which were not subsequently fired. This cold-painting tended to be fugitive. The other popular method of decoration was using lead-fluxed glazes in the so-called sancai palette. This name means 'three-colored', and the most usual color combination was green, cream and amber. The green was colored using copper and the amber was colored using iron. Both of these metals were readily available within China. However, the palette was not strictly limited to three colors, and occasionally black or blue was included. The use of blue was a considerable extravagance in Tang times, because the cobalt necessary to produce this color had to be imported from outside China's borders, and was thus extremely expensive. The lead-fluxed glazes gave brilliant colors to the whole sancai palette, but the blue was especially successful. The use of blue on these tomb figures is, however, rare, simply because its inclusion would have greatly increased the cost of the figure. The lavish use of blue on the current horse indicates that the family for whom it was made was determined to emphasize the wealth and prestige of their departed relative, and as a corollary, that of the whole family.
The result of Oxford Authentication Ltd. thermoluminescence test no. C103g26 is consistent with the dating of this lot.