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233. Horse & Trainer

China, Chongzhen period (1628-1644)
Height: 19 cm

A high transitional style pear-shaped bottle, with fine underglaze blue decoration. The body is sturdily potted and stands on a high foot-rim. The bulbous body curves into a narrow neck, the mouth-rim flaring out slightly. The main scene, is of a horse and a man - possibly a trainer or a groom - under a willow tree. Between them is a hitching post, which stands amongst rocks and shrubbery. Behind the figure are plantain trees, rocks, shrubs and ticks for grass. On the shoulder is a horizontal band with flower and leaf scrolls, between double blue lines. The neck has two larger vertical bands of flowers and scrolls.
The horse (ma) - the seventh creature in the Chinese zodiac - plays a prominent role throughout Chinese history and culture. The horse has a rich symbolic heritage in China, an emblem of power, speed, energy and perseverance. Because they also represented nobility and wealth, horses are likewise associated with academic pursuits. Being a candidate in the civil examinations was referred to as ‘horse riding’, as the small cells in which the exams took place were likened to horse stalls. There are also literary allusions to talent, which was likened to the heavenly horse flying in the sky; but until it had learnt fly, would be kept tethered awaiting appraisal. A tethered mount, can therefore represent a young official, whose talents are not yet fully discovered.

Similar bottles of the same period, size and style - with a varying main décor - are in the collections of the Staatliche Kunstsammlung, Kassel (Inv.Nr.OP32), and the Prinsessehof, Leeuwarden (inv.nr.GMP 1963-8). A comparable one is also listed in The Butler Family Collection.

Literature:
Vanderven Oriental Art Catalogue 2017 Beasts & Creatures no. 9

 

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