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Chinese Han Dynasty Pottery Horse and Rider

East Asia, China, Early Han Dynasty, ca. 206 BCE. A mold-made earthenware horse and rider, finely modeled and covered with nice traces of white, black, and red pigments. During the Han dynasty, the ancients placed such model figures in tombs to ensure a safe journey to the afterlife. Note how the sculptor delineated the details of the rider's form and clothing (including a receptacle for carrying implements on his back - and positioned his arms as if holding reins, or possibly a weapon and flag - perforations through the hands confirm this. In addition, the muscular body of his noble steed is carefully rendered as well. Size: 11.875" L x 11.375" H (30.2 cm x 28.9 cm)

According to the curatorial team of the Kimbell Art Museum that which has a similar horse and rider in its collection, "Historical records indicate that when important military officials died, the imperial Han court would give them elaborate funerals, including a full military cortege." (https://www.kimbellart.org/collection-object/horse-and-rider) Hence, this horse and rider was most likely originally part of a funerary entourage comprised of soldiers and cavalrymen created to honor a deceased official.

Tomb attendants like this one are part of a class of artifacts called mingqi - sometimes known as "spirit utensils" or "vessels for ghosts". They became popular in the Han Dynasty and would persist for several centuries. Alongside figures like this one were musicians, athletes, animals, structures… Even though they were mass produced, mingqi of the Han Dynasty often show a high level of detail and naturalism. These were designed to assist the po, the part of the soul of the deceased that remained underground with the body while the hun, the other part of the soul, ascended. Caring for the po seems to have taken on a new level of meaning in the Han period, with more elaborate rituals and tomb construction arising.

A Han Dynasty pottery equestrian figure sold at Christie's "The Art of China: Online Winter Sale" (2018, lot 61) for $6,250 - https://onlineonly.christies.com/s/art-china-online-winter-sale/painted-grey-pottery-figure-equestrian-61/51079

See a very similar Han Dynasty Horse and Rider at the Kimbell Art Museum - https://www.kimbellart.org/collection-object/horse-and-rider. The Kimbell curatorial team's description is certainly applicable to this example. They write, " As with much Western Han sculpture, the artist has here focused attention on the figures’ heads. That of the horse is boldly sculpted and precisely rendered, suggesting the physical attributes of the Samanthian breed from Xinjiang province in Central Asia, prized by the Chinese for its superior strength and speed. The rider’s face is characteristic of the period, with simple and abbreviated, yet naturally modeled, features. In both figures, the strong contours help to define a sense of volume and mass, enhanced by the addition of colorful pigments, which delineate the rider’s costume and the horse’s saddle and harness."

Condition: Rider's head/neck and torso reattached. Horse's head reattached and legs repaired and reattached. Expected surface wear with pigment loss commensurate with age, but nice traces of original pigments remain. Object(s) once in hands missing.

Provenance: private North Hills, California, USA collection, purchased in the mid-1990s at Tomlinson Galleries, Bangkok, Thailand. Tomlinson Galleries have multiple galleries throughout Asia including Bangkok, Singapore, and Malaysia

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