Early Oriental History of Horse Art

Oriental Art, early silk screen of the horse..

Early Oriental Horse Art Logo Horses in tomb figures and pottery are Early Oriental treasures of today's world.

History of Horse Art Areas and Times:

Art Bio of Sculptor Patricia Crane
Horse Artist: Four Decades of Horse Art by Patricia Crane

History of Horse Art Main Page
 Ancient Civilizations
 Medieval Times
Baroque Age
Eighteenth Century
Nineteenth Century

Illustration of Early Oriental Horses in Art:
Horse Head - Han Dynasty
International Museum of the Horse.
Early dappled horse figure
Qin's Army - life size Terra Cotta Horses
T'ang Glazed horse
Larger horses were intentionally bred in the Near East during the first millennium B.C. Camels also became more commonly used in battle as well as along trade routes. Around 1200 B.C.  and the ending of the Bronze Age, Assyria began its expansion efforts and the move to modern cavalry was at the core of all conquest. The Median and Chaldeans had their day prior to the rise of the Persian empire.

Horses from different parts of the Persian Empire are shown in  bas-relief carivngs at Persopolis. The riding horses were larger than the chariot horses. The riding horses were of the ancient Nicaean type whom many consider to have developed from crosses of the horses of central Asia and Africa, and the ancestors of the Persian Arabian horse. Horses depicted in these bas-relief processions came from Scythia, Turkestan, Greece, Turkey and Libya.

Horse considered "well-bred" arrived in China well after they had become so rooted in the live and times of the Near East and the eastern Mediterranean. China came into contact with the West because of the famous Silk Route. But the horse riding Hunnish nomads were prevented from trespassing into China by the Gobi Desert, a wonderful natural barrier. China did most certainly wish to prevent these barbaric tribes from entry, and the Great Wall of China was created.

The isolation of the Ancient East, geographically and therefore culturally, crated a separate artistic development from what occurred in the West and most of the early horse art figures were made to be buried in tombs.

Among early tribes, when leaders died their horses were killed and buried with the leader. As civilization evolved, this was no longer the practice, but horse sculpture was used instead and the thought or intent was that they would accompany the deceased in the after-life.

From 481 to 221 B.C., was the time period of Warring States in China, where borders were protected and invaders repelled. A great archaeological find of modern years, was the excavation of two earthenware cavalrymen from Tomb No. 2 in Xianying City, Shaanxi Province. The figures were molded by hand and are considered to be the oldest known examples of pottery cavalrymen found in China.

By the time of the Han Dynasty in China, from 206 BC to AD 222, the Emperor of China sent an embassy to the tribesmen then occupying Turkestan and while they learned much of the Western civilization of Macedonia, etc. they also learned about the larger and more impressive horses - horses quite different from the ponies of the Mongols which were well-known at that time in China.

Emperor Wu sent two armed expeditions into Turkestan and eventually succeeded in bringing these larger horses back to China for breeding purposes. This new breed was celebrated in early Oriental horse art. The Flying Horse with one leg on a swallow, that has been reproduced so often in recent years, was created during the Eastern Han Dynasty, around AD 25 to 222. This new horse, certainly stylized by the artists of the time, does give us clues as to conformation, with the noted characteristics of broad chests and dished faces.

The time of the Han Dynasty in China , 206 BC - AD222, horses in the form of pottery horse models for burial tombs saw much improvement in the formation or sculpting of the horse.

From AD 222 to 589 squat terracotta horses, with high backed saddles, somewhat typical of the Mongolian ponies were created. In the late 6th to early 8th century AD, a horse figure from the Astana cemetery in north-west China was painted with dapples and given a tuft of forelock. Early oriental horse art of this period was striving for realism, while still highly stylized by cultural traditions.

From the Western Han Dynasty, ca. 206 BC-9 AD, comes a horse art artifact , a gilded bronze horse, the only one of it's size ever found in China. Used by the Imperial family, this was obviously a treasured object of art and symbolism. The horse's eyes are focused and ears are erect. This example of early Oriental horse art was created in a very naturalistic style, even showing strands of hair in the mane and tail.

The T'ang Dynasty, during it's course of almost three centuries, Ad 618 to 907, gave rise to the creation of some of the finest of early Chinese horse art in figurines and sculpture and other art forms. A wonderful example of this early Oriental horse art is a museum piece of today - a silver stirrup flask displaying cultural and artistic traditions of the day. Incorporated into the design of the flask is a horse with a ribbon around its neck and a drinking cup in its mouth. This was the time period of Imperial Dancing Horses, performing riderless at court. Such horses were given wine to drink after dancing in troupes, and tossing their heads and tails to music. This was also a period where poetry and music were honored, and the horses played their part in artistic symbolism.

The characteristic glazed horse art pottery of the T'ang Dynasty is still justly celebrated today, and is part of museum collections all over the world.

Among the most popular and now famous of the T'ang Dynasty glazed horses, are those glazed in three colors, with very stylized manes and elaborate tack.

From a tomb of the Qin Dynasty, 221-207 BC, comes one of the most celebrated of archaeological discoveries -- an excavation of over 7,000 pottery warriors and tens of thousands of bronze weapons, including 540 life size horses and 130 chariots. All were painted very realistically, and the horses were sculpted with their eyes wide open and alert and their mouths open and nostrils flared.

According to the International Museum of the Horse, in Lexington, Kentucky "During the Tang Dynasty, the horse symbolized status and military power. As northerners, the Tang understood the military importance of the cavalry. Horses enjoyed a special position at court. When the Tang took power, they owned only 5,000 cavalry horses, but within 50 years that number had grown to 706,000. Each horse was assigned to a herd of 120 and branded as "flying," "dragon," or "wind" class (war, post, or royal mount, respectively).

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© All Photos and Sculpture Copyright 2000 - 2017, Patricia Crane.