A Massive Caparisoned Sancai-Glazed Ferghana Horse

Tang Dynasty

28 1/2 inches high


Standing four square on a rectangular base, with head turned very slightly to its right,with exceedingly well modeled apricot-leaf trappings over the hind quarters, saddle and around the lower neck and head, a very rare use of a saddle 'pommel' to the center of the upper hind area, behind the saddle, all under vivid glazes of green, yellow, beige and a mottled brown dripped with areas of green t apricot leaves and removable pommel on horse's hind quarters,


Provenance: A Private Collection, North Carolina

The Vallin Galleries, Wilton, CT, (original receipt)


The results of Oxford Thermoluminescence test, no. C119a8 (from three areas: the hind quarters, the belly and the head) are consistent with a Tang Dynasty dating.


A near-identically caparisoned horse of the same size and posture (28 3/4 inches high), is exhibited at the Museum Of Fine Arts Boston, accession number 46.478 formerly in the Mrs. John Gardner Coolidge Collection, see

The major difference between the two is the ground color, blue in the MFA example, and the more usual tri-colored glaze of ours. The hangings attached to the strapwork around the body and head might have been cast from the same mold, so similar are they. The same applies to the shape of the saddle and saddle cloth. The other obvious differences are the plain under-saddle cloth and the wavy mane.


This beautifully modeled horse  captures the spriit and power of this celebrated animal. Horses are among the most admired animals in China, where they are 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.


Sancai horses of this rare type are distinguished by their foliate-based 'metal' trappings. The elaborate trappings characteristically show the influence of Sassanian art on that of 8th century China. The complex, jewel-like decorations applied to the harness of this horse are mirrored in other Chinese decorative arts of the period. The present foliate plaques are known as 'hazel leaf' or 'apricot leaf.' For actual examples of similar gilt-bronze ornaments unearthed from the tomb of Princess Yongtai, buried in 706, see Y. Mino and J. Robinsion, Beauty and Tranquility: The Eli Lilly Collection of Chinese Art, Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1983, pl. 61, fig. E.