Horse and Rider
China, probably Shaanxi province
Western Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 9)
2nd–1st century B.C.
Earthenware with painted polychrome decoration
22 5/8 x 21 1/2 x 6 5/8 in. (57.5 x 54.6 x 16.8 cm)
Currently On View
Tombs of the Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D.. 220) were typically furnished with model figures and other objects believed to be necessary for a safe journey to the afterlife. Historical records indicate that when important military officials died, the imperial Han court would give them elaborate funerals, including a full military cortege. It is likely that this figure of a horse and rider was originally part of a model funerary retinue comprised of soldiers and cavalrymen that would have been placed in such a tomb. 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. Despite their relatively modest size, the pair possess a monumental quality normally associated with more massive Han stone sculptures.