A magnificent sancai-glazed pottery figure of a Ferghana horse, Tang dynasty (618-907)

Lot 1433. A magnificent sancai-glazed pottery figure of a Ferghana horse, Tang dynasty (618-907); 30 3/8 in. (77.2 cm.) high. Estimate USD 100,000 - USD 150,000. Price realised USD 315,750© Christie's Images Ltd 2013

The powerful figure is shown standing foursquare on a rectangular plinth with head raised and mouth open. The head is well detailed with expressive eyes and slightly flared nostrils set below a split forelock and pricked ears, and the muscular neck is emphasized by the hogged mane. The amber-glazed saddle is set atop a contrasting splash-glazed blanket, and the trappings are molded with florets and hung with 'apricot' leaf medallions with rampant lions handsomely covered in amber and bright green glazes that drain attractively on the straw-glazed body.

ProvenanceC.T. Loo, Inc., New York, 7 February 1951.

NoteThis large and elegantly-proportioned horse embodies the power of this celebrated animal. The most magnificent breed, immortalized in Chinese literature and the visual arts, was the Ferghana horse, introduced into central China from the West during the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). These were the fabled 'celestial' or 'blood-sweating' horses, known for their speed, power, and stamina. The renowned court artist Han Gan (active 742-56) changed the nature of Chinese horse painting when he depicted one of Emperor Xuanzong's (r. 712-56) favorite horses, Night-Shining White (now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art), in a realistic rather than supernatural manner. This development parallels the realism of Tang arts in general, and is exemplified by this magnificent horse.

Foliate-based plaques, rather than tassel trappings, appear in a variety of forms and multiples. The present type has been labeled 'apricot-leaf' or 'hazel-leaf'. For actual examples of similar gilt-bronze ornaments unearthed from the tomb of Princess Yongtai, buried in AD 706, see Y. Mino and J. Robinson, Beauty and Tranquility: The Eli Lilly Collection of Chinese Art, Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1983, p. 174, figs. E and F.

A Tang horse of very similar proportions and with similarly glazed saddle, blanket and trappings, but of slightly smaller size (67.3 cm. high) and with piebald markings, is illustrated by Fujio Nakazawa, 'Chinese Ceramics in the Toguri Museum of Art', Orientations, April 1988, p. 43, fig. 1.

Christie's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of ArtNew York21 - 22 March 2013.