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Gallery Text

Valued for their strength and endurance, horses symbolized wealth and power in ancient China; in a funerary context, they were believed to transport souls to the next world. Made specifically for burial in a tomb, this sculpture is exceptionally important for several reasons: its large size, brilliant glaze, near-perfect condition, and Romanstyle bridle ornaments. The bridle sports five circular medallions, each with a human face. Their number, placement, and decoration accord exactly with Roman convention and thus provide evidence of early Western influence in China. Horses were especially prized by rulers of the Han dynasty for their military value, as cavalry warfare was used to fend off frequent attacks of nomadic invaders. In the second century BCE, campaigns to procure Central Asian horses led to both the expansion of the Han Empire’s borders and to increased contact between China and the nations to its west along the Silk Road.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Standing Saddled Horse with Clipped Mane, Cropped and Tied Tail, and Roman-Style Bridle Ornaments
Work Type
probably 2nd century
Creation Place: East Asia, China, Sichuan province
Han dynasty, Eastern Han period, 25-220 CE
Persistent Link
Level 1, Room 1600, Early Chinese Art, Arts of Ancient China from the Bronze Age to the Golden Age
View this object's location on our interactive map
Physical Descriptions
Lead-glazed ware: Molded, brick red earthenware with lead-fluxed, caramel brown glaze, the detachable, unglazed tail and saddle molded in brick red earthenware, the detachable, unglazed ears molded in gray earthenware, the unglazed elements displaying traces of cold-painted pigments. Probably from the Chengdu region of Sichuan province.
H. 121.5 x L. 90.5 x D. 33 cm (47 13/16 x 35 5/8 x 13 in.)
[R. H. Ellsworth Ltd., New York, 2004] gift; to Harvard University Art Museums, 2004.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of R. H. Ellsworth Ltd. in memory of Phyllis and C. Douglas Dillon
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Publication History

Suzanne G. Valenstein, "Preliminary Findings on a 6th-Century Earthenware Jar", Oriental Art, Oriental Art Magazine (Singapore, Winter 1997-1998), vol. XLIII, no. 4, p. 11, figs. 22-23

Harvard University Art Museums, Harvard University Art Museums Annual Report 2004-2005 (Cambridge, MA, 2005), p. 10

Suzanne G. Valenstein, Cultural Convergence in the Northern Qi Period: A Flamboyant Chinese Ceramic Container, A Research Monograph, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, 2007), pp. 49, 129, figs. 81-82

Exhibition History

Re-View: S228-230 Arts of Asia, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 05/31/2008 - 06/01/2013

Re-View: S228-230 (Asian rotation: 6), Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 05/24/2011 - 11/12/2011

32Q: 1600 Early China II, Harvard Art Museums, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

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