Texas: From Tang to Tomb – Chinese Horses in Art and History

Chinese Tang Horse

Chinese Tang Horse from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) at the San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, Texas

Tang Emperors, from the Chinese Tang Dynasty (618-907), were avid horse fanciers who, according to historians, built heated stables for their favourite equines. A lot of their sturdy and well-groomed mounts (useful in battle) were imported from Central Asia and ceramic versions of these revered beasts have been found in many tombs. Many, like this two-foot tall perfectly preserved ceramic figure at the San Antonio Museum of Art, are covered with Sancai – a thick tri-coloured green, brown and white (but rarely blue) glaze. Its low melting point allows it to fuse, or drip, over the clay body of the horse giving it an attractive but imperfect coating. The saddle was not glazed, but painted. (Note the absence of stirrups likely not yet invented).

This particular piece was given to the San Antonio Museum that opened in 1981 in the former Lone Star Brewery building from a couple of trustees who jumped started the museum’s current impressive Chinese ceramic collection with a number of donations. The museum today is a multi-level archive of global art and artifacts housed in a former industrial building. Once on the edge of town, the gallery is now connected to the centre core by the ‘museum extension’ (added in 2009) of city’s iconic River Walk, a scenic landscaped pedestrian walkway along the San Antonio River and highlight of any visit.

Among the collection of Roman sculptures, Latin art, and Egyptian hieroglyphics, the prized Tang horses, of course, were my favourite pieces in this gallery. And I had to take home my own version from the gift store – too often the place I linger longest in any museum – especially if there are horses in any form.

Replica Chinese Tang horse

Replica Chinese Tang horse from the San Antonio Museum of Art gift shop.

Love horses and art? Let us know where and when in the comment section. Read more blog posts about San Antonio here: Briscoe.

Or read more about the San Antonio Art Gallery here.

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