Grey Pottery Horse

Han Dynasty, China
Height 31 cm; long 33 cm.

A Painted Grey Pottery Figure of a Horse

Grey Pottery Horse, standing squarely with the head forwards in alert position, the ears picked, cropped mane and ducked tail, covered in grey slip and red pigments.

The Han Dynasty

“China is a land of myths and mysteries shrouded in the mist of history. Throughout the course of Chinese history, one animal has exerted a tremendous influence over its development – the horse”.¹

Ones the Chinese made the transition to riding and cavalry replaced chariots as the major force in warfare, the importation of horses superior to native stock became a much higher priority.  The Xiongnu controlled a vast area stretching from Manchuria in the west to Turkestan in the east, and posed a serious threat to the Chinese. With increasingly frequent raids into China by the Xiongnu, the need for the Chinese to secure finer horses became even greater. Around 160 BC, Zhao Zu, a Chinese official, commented that “the territory [of the Xiongnu], and the skills it demands, are different from those of China. In climbing up and down mountains and crossing ravines and mountain torrents, the horses of China cannot compare with those of the Hsiung-nu [Xiongnu]”.

The search for superior horses and for allies against the Xiongnu led to one of the more interesting chapters in China’s equestrian history – the incredible journey of Zhang Qian and the resulting campaign to obtain premium horses from the land of Frghana. While these events were significant in their own right, the ultimate result – the opening of the Silk Roads – would prove to be of the more significant occurrences in Chinese history.²   

¹ Dr. Bill Booth, Guest Curator

Professor Emeritus of Art History

Morehead State University

Morehead, Kentucky

² Imperial China, 2000 by Kentucky Horse Park

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Grey Pottery Horse