This particularly fine, beautiful and, for such a relatively small model, noble figure of a horse and rider evocatively captures much of the style and flavour of courtly life in ancient China. The figure also illustrates, in the pose of the horse with its heads held high, the qualities of enduring strength and determination that so endeared the almost legendary Ferghana horse, the horses which 'sweated blood', to the early rulers of China.
The model portrays a soldier who, by his distinctively and deliberately modelled facial features, may be recognised as of Turkic origin like so many soldiers, retainers and attendants serving at the cosmopolitan Court of Tang China. At the side of the saddle is a circular drum and the hands are poised in a precipitate manner ready to strike. This figure would have been one of a number of such models in a retinue of civil and military figures placed in a tomb and which reflected the status and position of the deceased.
Excerpt from: Edmund Capon 'Chinese, Tang dynasty: Horse and rider' Collection Series 2, AGNSW, 1982.
The tomb figure tradition is considered to have reached its apogee in the Tang dynasty. This horse and rider capture the confident cosmopolitan atmosphere of the capital city Changan: the horse is one of the elegant Ferghana horses, the soldier astride him appears to be of Turkic origin, one of the many races who mingled in the Tang capital. (The rider's felt hood is of a type worn by Central Asian horsemen and riders).
This figure would have formed part of the military retinue in the tomb of a high-ranking military official or perhaps a prince. Such figures were usually congregated in niches set in the walls of the sloping roadway leading down to the subterranean burial chamber.
Typically for such pieces, this equestrian figure is constructed from separate piece moulds and is hollow inside. In this piece the legs, the two halves of the body, the head and the rider were separately cast, and then luted together before firing. The work is decorated in the three colours of cream, green and amber common on Tang glazed tomb figures and referred to as 'sancai', literally 'three colours'. The face was left unglazed to permit the detailed addition of facial features.
There was a complex list of regulations governing the use of 'mingqi' strictly according to rank. For example in the early Tang dynasty government officials were permitted burial figures on the following basis:
1st to 3rd ranks: 90 pieces
4th and 5th ranks: 70 pieces
6th to 9th ranks: 40 pieces
Jackie Menzies, 'Early Chinese Art', AGNSW, 1983. cat. no. XXXII.
Place where the work was made
Tang dynasty 618 - 907 → China
earthenware with sancai (three colour) glaze
40.6 x 39.5 x 12.5 cm
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Purchased with funds provided by the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales 1979
Not on display
Where the work was made
Shown in 2 exhibitions
Referenced in 12 publications
Edmund Capon., Art Gallery of New South Wales collection series 2, 'Chinese, Tang dynasty: Horse and rider', Sydney, 1982, cover (colour illus.), inside (illus.). fig.no. 1. Detailed image.
Edmund Capon, The Australian Antique Collector, 'Chinese tomb figures in the Art Gallery of New South Wales', pg. 96-101, Chippendale, Jan 1981-Jun 1981, 96 (colour illus.). fig.no. 1
Edmund Capon, The Connoisseur, 'Far Eastern Art in the Art Gallery of New South Wales', pg. 22-29, London, May 1980, 23 (illus.).
Lynette Gurr, Australian Art Review, 'Friends of Museums and Galleries, The changing role of gallery societies', p107-108, Rozelle, 1982, 108 (illus.).
Jackie Menzies, Three years on: a selection of acquisitions 1978-1981, 'Asian Art', pg. 85-103, Sydney, 1981, 88 (colour illus.). cat.no. 1
Jackie Menzies, Asian Collection Handbook, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Early Chinese Art', pg. 18-29, Sydney, 1990, 25 (colour illus.).
Jackie Menzies, Look: 1953-2003 celebrating 50 years, 'Asian Treasures', pg. 57-59, Sydney, May 2003, 59 (colour illus.).
Look, 'Gifts of the Art Gallery Society to the Gallery 1959-1994', pg. 18-19, Heidelberg, Aug 1994, 18 (colour illus.).
Australia's national collections, North Ryde, 1980, 252 (illus.).
Portrait of a Gallery, 'Asian Art', pg. 106-113, Sydney, 1984, 4 (colour illus.), 106, 107 (colour illus.).
Early Chinese Art, Sydney, 1983, (illus.) Not paginated. cat.no. XXXII. See 'Further Information' for text.
The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Tomb Sculpture', Sydney, 2003, 86 (colour illus.).