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Identification and Creation
Object Number
Figurine of a Horse and Rider
Work Type
12th-8th century BCE
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World, Asia, Iran
Iron Age
Persistent Link
Physical Descriptions
Arsenical bronze
Cast, lost-wax process
2 x 2.3 x 0.8 cm (13/16 x 7/8 x 5/16 in.)
Technical Details

Chemical Composition: ICP-MS/AAA data from sample, Arsenical Bronze:
Cu, 93.09; Sn, 2.1; Pb, 0.68; Zn, 0.009; Fe, 1.48; Ni, 0.03; Ag, 0.22; Sb, 0.04; As, 2.28; Bi, less than 0.025; Co, 0.071; Au, less than 0.01; Cd, less than 0.001
J. Riederer

Technical Observations: The patina is black with patches of pale green and gray waxy material. Brown dirt is also present. The object is intact but lacks surface detail. The horse and rider were cast solid as one piece. The corrosion products are not typical of ancient bronzes. Surface deposits are slightly soluble in alcohol and acetone, which leaves behind white specks.

Examination of the surface using medium magnification and carving into the accretions and black patina provided some argument that the object is antique. The black surface has some thickness to it rather than being extremely thin, as in the case of some faked patinas. Additionally, there was some evidence of a very thin layer of red oxide after the cutting reached the underlying metal. Although these observations do not definitively prove that the object is ancient, they do offer some argument for it.

Carol Snow and Henry Lie (submitted 2002, updated 2011)

Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood, Belmont, MA (by 1998-2002), gift; to Harvard University Art Museums, 2002.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Published Catalogue Text: In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art , written 2013

Figurine of a horse and rider
Iran, probably Gilan, 12th–8th century BCE
2 × 2.3 × 0.8 cm (13/16 × 7/8 × 5/16 in.)

During the Iron Age (c. 1450–500 BCE) bronze smiths in western Iran produced a wide array of tools, vessels, and personal ornaments with animal decor, as well as various animal figurines. The bronzes from Luristan are the best known, but animal figurines also come from the province of Gilan, on the southwestern shores of the Caspian Sea.

The delicate rendering of this minute bronze horse and rider from the Calderwood Collection captures all the essential details. The horse has a narrow midsection, short legs that taper to a point with no articulation of joints, and a tail that protrudes as a pointed stump. Ears, mane, and reins are indicated on its head. The rider sits far forward on the horse, forming a unit with its neck. His arms hold the reins; he has stubby legs and a prominent chin or nose.

Similar statuettes of horses with riders astride them can be found in a number of collections.[1] Their precise find spots are unknown, but like other bronzes, they tend to be labeled “Amlash,” after a small town in Gilan that served as a market for antiquities. A bronze horse or mule with a figure riding sidesaddle, another with just a saddle, and four horses without tack were excavated with other animal figurines from a rich Iron Age cemetery at the site of Marlik, in a fertile valley of the Elburz Mountains in Gilan.[2] Most of them larger but with similar stylistic features, the Marlik animal bronzes indicate that the Calderwood figurine was indeed made in the southwestern Caspian region, probably in the late second or early first millennium BCE. The animal figures from Marlik—including humped bulls, sometimes yoked to plows, as well as stags, goats, rams, dogs, boars, and felines—seem inspired by the natural and domestic environments of ancient Gilan. Placed in a tomb, they, like the horse and rider, would have represented for eternity the wealth and status of the deceased.

This diminutive statuette was cast solid and in one piece. It is covered in black patina with some pale green patches and a very thin layer of red copper oxide underneath.[3] Analysis has revealed that the metal contains between 2 and 2.5 percent of both tin and arsenic.[4] Arsenic has been found in Iranian copper-based artifacts made as early as the fifth millennium BCE; its presence was due at first to the use of polymetallic ores and later also to the addition of arsenic to the smelted copper. Early metalworkers appear to have been aware that arsenic—like the tin of a typical bronze—facilitated the casting, increased the hardness, and affected the color of copper-based objects.[5] In the case of the horse and rider, the desired quality of the metal seems to have been achieved by adding low percentages of tin and arsenic in combination.

Susanne Ebbinghaus

[1] See, for instance, the following examples: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 59.734, illustrated in Terrace 1962, no. 31 (upper right); Foroughi Collection, Tehran, in Ghirshman 1964, 35, 420, fig. 39; Bomford Collection, in Ashmolean Museum 1966, 47, cat. 236, pl. 21. For couples on horseback, see Ghirshman 1964, 57, 431, fig. 69;
and 382, 440, fig. 569. For a chariot team, see Moorey 1971, 170, no. 216, pl. 40.
[2] For the rider, see Negahban 1996, 113, no. 80, pl. 35; for horses and other animals, see ibid., 126–35, nos. 115–52, pls. xxv and 42–48. For a rider from nearby Kaluraz, see Hakemi 1968, 81, fig. xxxvii.
[3] Technical observations were provided by Carol Snow and Henry Lie at the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, Harvard Art Museums.
[4] CP-MS analysis was carried out by Josef Riederer, then of the Rathgen-Forschungslabor of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin.
[5] Moorey 1994, 240, 242, 250–51; Thornton 2009 and 2010.

Publication History

Mary McWilliams, ed., In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, exh. cat., Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2013), pp. 210-211, cat. 59, ill.

Exhibition History

In Harmony: The Norma Jean Calderwood Collection of Islamic Art, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 01/31/2013 - 06/01/2013

Subjects and Contexts

Ancient Bronzes

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at