East Asia, China, Late Han Dynasty, ca. 0 to 220 CE. A mold-made earthenware horse and rider, finely modeled and covered with nice remains of white, red, and grey pigments. During the Han dynasty, the ancients placed such model figures in tombs to ensure a safe journey to the afterlife. Note how the sculptor delineated the details of the rider's face and clothing and positioned his arms as if holding reins, a weapon, or a flag - a perforation through the right hand confirms this. In addition, the muscular body of his noble steed is carefully rendered as well. Size: 10.25" L x 11.375" H (26 cm x 28.9 cm)
According to the curatorial team of the Kimbell Art Museum that which has a similar horse and rider in its collection, "Historical records indicate that when important military officials died, the imperial Han court would give them elaborate funerals, including a full military cortege." (https://www.kimbellart.org/collection-object/horse-and-rider) Hence, this horse and rider was most likely originally part of a funerary entourage comprised of soldiers and cavalrymen created to honor a deceased official.
Tomb attendants like this one 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.
Provenance: private North Hills, California, USA collection
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