East Asia, China, Han Dynasty, ca. 206 BCE to 220 CE. An incredible Han Dynasty Horse, striding forward with his front right hoof lifted, presenting an expressive visage with wide-open eyes, a pronounced snout with flared nostrils and an open mouth revealing his teeth, raised alert ears, a neatly manicured mane, raised and curled tail, and a finely delineated relief bridle. During the Han dynasty, the ancients placed such model figures in tombs to ensure a safe journey to the afterlife. Note how the sculptor skillfully delineated the muscular body of this noble steed. Size: 51" H (129.5 cm); 58" H (147.3 cm) on included custom stand.
During this period of Chinese history, horses came from the Ferghama Valley in Central Asia - present day Afghanistan. When elite individuals passed away, large "walking" terracotta Ferghama horses displaying an immense degree of attention to detail, like this example, were created to carry the deceased into the hereafter. The horse, second only in importance to the dragon, was believed to possess magical powers. The number of horses owned by an individual ensured his high status in the afterlife.
Funerary sculptures like this piece 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.
This piece has been tested using thermoluminescence (TL) twice - by QED Laboratoire and Artemis Testing Lab. According to both tests, the piece has been found to be ancient and of the period stated. A full report will accompany purchase. This piece was tested in 5 separate locations, all confirming the piece is authentic and ancient
Provenance: private collection of the late Karming Wong; approximate date of acquisition: late 1970 to early 1980. Horse was purchased by Karming Wong, who after leaving China during the Cultural Revolution became a private collector. Item was purchased from a dealer in Hong Kong and was transferred to Karming Wong's descendants upon his death in 2012.
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Repaired from several pieces, but virtually complete save restoration over the break lines.