Horse and Rider

The Tang Dynasty of China (618-907 AD.) was a period of great economic, political, cultural, and religious growth. During this era China had become the most important eastern market for the Sogdian merchants along the Silk Road path. On this long-distance international trade, the Central Asians’ economy was therefore based on horses. The ancient Chinese pottery figure “Horse and Rider” with a merchant-look man on horseback is a “sancai”, or three-colored glaze pottery sculpture. Both the subject and structure show the cultural and economic richness of the Tang dynasty in the 6th and 7th century.

“Sancai” glaze is a skill while covering pottery clay with three colors: usually milky cream as the background, green, and blue. However, those were just the basic colors. Reaching the 7th century, the new colors had been created by simply putting them onto oxide lead fluxed glaze. For different colors, there were dark green while mixing with oxide copper and amber, yellow or brown while mixing with iron. Besides the mix of colors, those types of sculptures were made from low-fired earthenware to make them even more lustrous. The style became fashionable in the early Tang dynasty for funerary, utilitarian, and even export wares. And from the 13th to the middle of the 15th century, the skill of sancai traveled along the Silk Road and had also been used in Syrian, Cypriot, as well as Italian pottery (China Online Museum).

The horse itself serves as a potent image during the vigorous expansion of the Tang dynasty’s “golden age.” According to the historical sources from Tang, these large horses were called “blood-sweating horse” by the Chinese due to their special tissues. Those horses were raised in the western region of Ferghana and were sent in great numbers as tributes from the Sogdians to Chinese emperor. In Tang China, those horses had also become a symbol of wealth because of their rareness: there were strict laws that limited the use of the horses, even the serving in the military.

Along the Silk Road, horses were used as transportation and carrying trade goods. To the Turks, these horses were produced primarily for their own consumption. Although silk was one of the most luxurious goods, the Turks, and the Sogdian merchants who lived among them did not actually need silk, which they had received as payments for their horses while giving them to the Chinese (Beckwith, 1991). The Sogdians and Turks used their silk (which could replace money during the time) for usually two reasons: to buy goods such as clothing-grade silk from the Chinese, and to sell the silk to the Arab for metal or other goods.


"Horse and Rider | 54.169 | Work of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art." (CL)

The Met's Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Accessed May 10, 2016.

"Tang Dynasty Ceramics." , Pottery, Porcelain. Accessed May 10, 2016. (CL)

Beckwith, Christopher I. “Impact of the Horse and Silk Trade on the Economies of T’ang China and The Uighur Empire: On the Importance of International Commerce in the Early Middle Ages.” Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 34, No.3, 1991: 183-198. (CL)



Early 8th century




H. 15 in. (38.1 cm); W. 4 1/4 in. (10.8 cm); L. 13 1/4 in. (33.7 cm)


Earthenware with three-color (sancai) glaze and pigment


The Metropolitan Museum

Additional Research Metadata


Earthenware with three-color (sancai) glaze and pigment


Tang, China


The Metropolitan Museum (



“Horse and Rider,” Telling the Sogdian Story: A Freer|Sackler Digital Exhibition Project, accessed February 25, 2024,