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Unknown | China | Horse 618-907 (Tang dynasty) | Mould–cast earthenware, cream glaze, yellow­–ochre lead glaze | 47.2 x 16.5 x 43cm | Gift of an anonymous donor through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation 2011. Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Horse 618-907 (Tang dynasty)

A ceramics industry flourished in the Tang dynasty (618-906), with lead-glazed pottery in particular beginning to be produced in great numbers in the northern kilns around Shaanxi, Hebei and Henan. This was driven largely by the vast requirements of elaborate tomb furnishings that would be paraded through the streets before being placed inside the tombs of nobles, and included vessels and figurative objects. This exemplary horse represents the remarkable industry of figurative funerary ceramics during this prosperous period and is an image synonymous with Tang dynasty culture.

A symbol of nobility and class, horses had previously been used with drawn carriages, however the Tang nobility began to adopt the European mode of riding astride horses equipped with saddles over animal fur. This stocky, regally standing horse is covered in a cream-coloured glaze except for the saddle and eyes, which were originally painted with pigment. A yellow ochre glaze covers the hooves and ears, and a streak runs from the saddle along the top of the mane to the muzzle, while at the rear of the horse a small hole is left where a tail made of real horsehair would be attached.

Lead glazes began appearing in application to pale white or straw-yellow coloured pottery in the sixth century, and by the end of the seventh century, objects were readily being decorated with a splash of coloured lead glaze. By the eighth century a range of polychrome glazes were being employed, including early examples of cobalt blue (the basis for later blue-and-white wares) and the popular Tang style known as sancai (three colour) glaze; commonly yet not restricted to straw-white, amber and green. This, together with the gradual superseding of earthenware by stoneware (later succeeded by porcelain), were major technological advances in ceramic production of the era.