Details & Cataloguing

Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art

New York

each of imposing size, superbly modeled, standing foursquare on a rectangular base, with head high and turned to the left, the nostrils flared and mouth open to reveal well defined teeth, one a strikingly beautiful black horse with a flowing white mane falling in serrated waves from the arched neck, the forelock parted in front of the pricked ears and combed to the sides above the large eyes and bridge of the nose splashed in cream, the bridle decorated with crisp floret medallions, the saddle covered with a long leaf-green saddlecloth naturalistically textured to simulate fur, furled back at the forward edge to show the cream-colored lining, secured by breast and crupper straps molded with floret studs, all brilliantly contrasted against the rich brownish-black glaze, shading to amber brown along the slender legs, ending in streaks above the cream colored ankles and amber splashed hoofs, the companion horse of an extremely rare ‘strawberry roan’ color, with patches of creamy-white showing through the overall reddish-beige glaze save for the hoofs in cream, the docked tail and hogged mane glazed in rich chestnut parted in front of the ears and with a single lock of mane falling down the shoulder, the large eyes set beneath furrowed brows, the left eye unusually incised with a pupil and iris, the saddle covered with a bright lime-green and cream saddlecloth tied and falling in pleats over two saddle blankets splashed in green and chestnut, all secured by breast and crupper straps molded with florets, knotted behind the saddle with one end trailing down the side of the saddle blanket; of particular note is the pronounced sweep of the back arching dramatically to the high haunches and large lifted rump, continuing to the flourish of the curled tail before tapering at the muscled things and hocks, the beautifully proportioned modeling the identical form confirming both as a fine pair while imparting a distinctive grace and imperious carriage, stands (4)
Black horse: Height 27 in., 69.6 cm; Width 30 in., 76.2 cm
Roan horse: Height 26 3/4  in., 67.9 cm; Width 30 in., 76.2 cm
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Sotheby's New York, 27th March 2003, lot 36

Catalogue Note

It is rare to find two large Tang horses of sancai-glazed pottery modeled in this way as a complementary pair, with differently colored coats, groomed manes and saddle blankets, but otherwise identically sculpted, of the same powerful build, angle of the head and modeling of the face, and with the musculature identically rendered with distinctive relief modeling and deeply carved grooves.  Very few examples of glazed pairs of horses have been published. An important and quite similar pair in the Kyoto National Museum, one with a dappled coat and the other black-glazed similarly to ours, (fig. 5)  is illustrated in Mayuyama Seventy Years, Vol. I, Tokyo, 1976, nos. 197 and 198 and again in Sekai Toji Zenshu, Shogakukan Series, Vol. 11, col. pl. 192. A superb unglazed pair of horses was sold at Sotheby’s London, 13th December 1988, lots 49 and 50, and one of them again at Sotheby’s New York, 19th March 1997, lot 203. These horses were similarly conceived as a complementary pair, distinguished in color, the grooming of the manes, and the form of the exotic and western-influenced trappings. Horses have long been a symbol of status and wealth, the representation of a large important pair of distinct and desirable coloration such as the present example, reflect the high rank and importance of the owner and his family. Indeed, Tang dynasty statues as early as 667 assert the ownership of horses as an aristocratic privilege, in an edict forbidding artisans and tradesmen this right.

Black pottery horses are very scarce and are more often seen with a hogged mane, such as the famous horse from the British Rail Pension Fund, which sold for a world record price at Sotheby’s London, 12th December 1989, lot 56, (GBP 3.74 million). That horse had a similar green simulated fur saddle blanket, but the black coat of the animal was interspersed with lighter spots and partly hidden under large trappings. Another example of a black and sancai-glazed caparisoned horse of slightly smaller size was sold in these rooms 21st September 2005, lot 251. There is also a fine example of an also large and with a similarly treated mane but with elaborate trappings in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston illustrated in Wu Tung, Earth Transformed, Boston 2001, pp. 40-41. Another very fine example of a fully caparisoned horse, from the collection of James W. and Marilyn Alsdorf, the body a rich brown color and with a bi-color mane was sold in our London rooms 11th June, 1991, lot 112. The black glaze of the present figure is particularly opaque and slightly iridescent and has been created by applying a second iron-rich coating over the standard amber glaze, which is visible at the ankles. Strawberry roan animals are the rarest type of Tang pottery horses. This unusual glaze tone, used for a chestnut-colored coat interspersed with white hair, was created by covering a white slip with an iron-rich reddish slip, then rubbing part of the latter away before applying a transparent glaze, so that white patches come up through the red. A horse of similar coloration was sold at Sotheby’s London, 9th June 1987, lot 84, from the collection of Mona, Countess von Bismarck. A dappled strawberry-roan glazed horse with similar trappings and a hogged mane, currently in the Toguri museum, is illustrated by Fujio Nakazawa, 'Chinese Ceramics in the Toguri Museum of Art', Orientations, April 1988, p. 43, fig. 1.The different colors of horses appear to have been of particular importance to the Tang emperors, whose favorite horses are described by their coloration. The present two glaze colors were obviously specially developed for a correct representation of particular types of horses- if not even individual steeds- for which the usual sancai range of amber, cream and green would have been too limited. In addition no other glazed figures forming part of the core group of funerary wares display these particular colors indicating the special status reserved for horses. Emperor Taizong (r. 600-673?) had portraits of his six favorite battle chargers carved in stone, the Zhaoling Liujun.  Each horse is described by its noble deeds in battle and by its color; bay, deep brown, bright chestnut, bay with a white mouth, pale grey, and black with white hooves.)  The Emperor Xuanzong displayed equal passion for his mounts commissioning paintings from the famed artist Han Gan  (c. 706-783) In the Lidai minghua ji (‘Record of famous painters of all periods’; 847), Zhang Yanyuan noted that Emperor Xuanzong  ‘loved large horses and ordered Han to paint the most noble of his more than 400,000 steeds’, six of these, all bred from the famed Ferghana stock  in Central Asia are described by  their respective colors, red, purple, scarlet, yellow, ‘clove’ , and ‘peach-flower’ colored, respectively. The most famous of which is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, ‘Night-shining White’ (Zhaoyebai) and attributed to the artist. Indeed, it is easy to speculate that Han Gan’s distinctive style which captures the animals in spirited movement, emphasizing their powerful, rounded and muscular forms while retaining an easy naturalism, influenced the artisans who sculpted the present pair.

The splendid physical appearance of the present pair, which gives the impression of tamed strength and power, is emphasized by the simplicity of the unadorned harnessing. The same effect can be seen on the famous black-glazed horse with cropped mane and tied saddle cloth, excavated in 1969 from tomb no.120 at Chegedang, Guanlin, near Luoyang in Henan province, which has been frequently illustrated, for example, in Luoyang Tang sancai, Beijing, 1980, pl. 69; and in Zhongguo meishu quanji: Diaosu Bian, vol.4, Beijing, 1988, pl. 197, with a detail on p.202. Many large Tang horses are depicted with elaborate trappings, indicating use of the horse in ceremonial parades, while the plain harness appears to have been customary for more functional outings, and is of a type rarely seen on large sancai horses.  The simple harness appears also on the above-mentioned battle horses of Emperor Taizong and in Tang paintings and murals depicting horses mounted for battle or sport.  The inclusion of these simple trappings on the present sculptures implies that perhaps they reference military achievement by their illustrious owner. The stone carvings of the former emperor, now in the University Museum of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and in the Shaanxi Provincial Museum, Xi’an, are illustrated ibid, pls. 101-106; and several paintings of horses attributed to the Tang are published in The Great Treasure of Chinese Fine Arts: Painting, vol. 2, Beijing, 1988, pls. 10,11,19,21,27 and 30.

The dating of this lot is consistent with the result of a thermoluminescence test, Oxford authentication Ltd., nos. 766p63 and 766p62.

Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art

New York