A LARGE AND MASSIVE LACQUERED WOOD STATUE OF A HORSE, SICHUAN, HAN DYNASTY
Carved of two jointed single pieces of wood, with original black and red lacquer coating
China, Sichuan province, Western Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 9)
The horse is lacquered in black with outstanding highlights in bright red. The carving style follows the minimalist formal guidelines of the period, with its dramatic archaism and simplified forms of expression. The rider, lost after millennia of burial, was once sitting on a saddle, of which the mountings are still well visible. Horse and rider probably functioned as honor guards in a ceremonial procession, a typical element of Han tomb furnishings.
Several variations of such wooden horses were found and excavated during the latter part of the 20th century at Mianyang, Sichuan Province, where the lacquer industry flourished during the Han dynasty. Related examples were for example found at a Shuangbaoshan tomb and excavated in 1993, see article "Delicate and lovely, unique and strange: Art of Sichuan Province, Second Century B.C.E to Third Century C.E.," Orientations 28, no. 8, September 1997, pp. 78-84.
Weight: 24.9 kilograms
Dimensions: Height 90 cm., length 78 cm
Condition: Significant deterioration of the wood near the tail, which is loose as a result. Remainders of old mounts visible where the saddle used to be. The black lacquer coating is worn off in some areas to the extent that the red priming became visible. Some minor losses, chipping and small cracks as expected on a wood carving of this age.
Provenance: American private collection; previously acquired from Kemin Hu, the leading Chinese scholar’s rocks specialist and author of several publications on the subject.
Rafter Radiocarbon at the GNS Science National Isotope Centre, New Zealand, Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Result, Report #211018, dating from 22 Nov 2018, determines a conventional radiocarbon age of 6688 years +/- 34 % thus establishing a minimum age of >4000 years for a sample taken from the core of lot #50. This minimum age seems to be a bit off, given that the age for such a statue according to current state of research should be between 2000 and 3600 years maximum. The laboratory has suggested measurement on remaining sample material in the Stable Isotope Lab to determine if something may still be contaminating the sample to some extent and, if unsuccessful, re-measure the sample for 14C (free of charge if result is different to first measuring, indicating that a mistake occurred at the lab during the first measuring, but absolutely no guarantee given that any result can be provided at all). Summarizing the aforementioned, this author fully stands behind the current dating of lot #50 as a minimum, especially taking into consideration the results currently provided by report #211018.
Literature comparison: Compare with a group of four horses with riders, exhibited at the The Metropolitain Museum of Art, New York, in “Age of Empires: Chinese Art of the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 B.C.–A.D. 200)” from April 3rd, 2017 – July 16th, 2017. Sichuan sheng wenwu kaogu yanjiuyuan 四川省文物考古研究院 (Sichuan Provincial Institute of Archaeology) and Mianyang bowuguan 綿陽博物館 (Mianyang Museum). Mianyang shuangbaoshan hanmu 綿陽雙包山漢墓 (Mianyang shuangbaoshan Han tomb). Beijing: Wenwu Press, 2006: 71–91.
中國，四川，西漢 (206 B.C.–A.D. 9)
重量： 24.9 公斤
尺寸： 高 90 厘米, 長 78 厘米