110- Han Horse Large Painted

Han Horse Large Painted
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  • 110- Han Horse Large Painted
  • Object type: Ceramic Sculpture Horse
  • Period: Han (221 BCE- 220 AD)
  • Height, Width, Depth in cm: 51x54x19

One of the defining moments in my appreciation of the aesthetics of Chinese sculpture came in the mid-1990s on a visit to a Singapore exhibit covering all aspects of Han Dynasty life (rural life, court life, music, costume, invention, and sculpture). One bronze horse from the Beijing National Museum was particularly striking in the power of its expression. It looked as though Picasso might have found inspiration in it for his painting of the terror-striken horses in his Guernica. (There is no evidence of this influence however.) Nonetheless, looking at that horse led to me to the conclusion that among the numerous bronzes and ceramics of the early Chinese dynasties there were works by great, but unknown, artists (like the anonymous sculptors of our Gothic cathederals) which were equal to the outstanding work of many of our artists in the West. The people of the Han dynasty itself were fascinated by horses. Horses are frequently represented in bronze and ceramic sculpture and are frequently depicted on brick reliefs and on stone engravings (see the Han stone relief in this collection). Horses were used to pull war chariots or the chariots of the wealthy and as mounts for warriors. Later in the Han, a particularlty large, swift and powerful breed of horse, the so-called Ferghana, "fire-breathing heavenly" stallion, was imported from areas around current day Uzbekistan. These horses were highly prized and this sculpture, based on the elegant, elongated shape of its head, is most likely a representation of one such horse. Ceramic sculptures in this style were relatively frequent in the tombs of the Western Han aristocrats. Legs had originally been attached - holes in the underbody for inserting them remain. However no legs for this style of horse have survived. Some Han horses similar to this one in other collections have elaborately painted blankets and harness fittings. This one shows extensive areas of black, white and red original paint outlining facial features, a saddle blanket, harness fittings and harness decorations. As with other exemplars of this style of horse, the head is molded seperately. There is no tail and, on this piece, there are bilateral areas on the head where ears undoubtedly had been attached. Also this piece, unlike similar pieces, has a small hole on either side of the head - most likely for a bridle- or bit-fitting. Versions of this horse were made in various sizes. This is one of the largest. What is particularly striking about this figure is the powerful modeling of the head which, in many respects, is similar in expression to that of the Han Exhibit bronze horse cited above. I have seen only two other similar Han ceramic pieces which approach the fineness and expressiveness of this horse's head. One is in a collection in Singapore and another in the Guimet Asian Arts Museum (head only) in Paris. In this piece, the mouth and eyes are more accentuated and finely modeled than in the Guimet head and, along with the pattern of the preserved coloring, lend the piece a especially striking expressiveness. We are only left to imagine how this horse might have looked standing four feet high with legs attached, along with its ears and added harness fittings and with the original intensity of its colors - perhaps an equal in power and presence to that Beijing National Museum bronze horse.

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