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Tang dynasty (618-907)
Height: 32 cm, width: 24 cm
The figurine wears a hood, a round-necked gown with narrow sleeves, and boots. His feet rest in stirrups. The horse has round eyes and upright ears and is slightly turning its head to the side. The fitting on its crest originally supported a drum, which has now been lost. It is likely a part of what was a greater musical procession.
Wind and percussion instrument figurines are commonly seen among ceremonial processions. According to tradition, Ban Yi, the earliest recorded ancestor of the Ban family in China, created percussion and wind instruments in the Han dynasty. They were originally for military functions and then later used in imperial processionals and banquets.
During the Tang dynasty (618-907), the Office of Drums and Fifes (which included various types of wind and percussion instruments) was established in the Court of Imperial Sacrifices (Taichang si) where the Director of Drums and Fifes (a seventh-rank official), an official aide (an eighth-rank official), and four Music Masters (ninth-rank status) served. Apart from the emperor, imperial consort, and heir apparent, officials from the first to fourth rank also had the privilege of enjoying court wind and percussion music. Tang dynasty wind and percussion music was part of daily recreation and also served funerary purposes. Tang dynasty drum and fife ensembles consisted of five parts, each of which had their own respective pieces, seventy-five in total.
Princess Pingyang, the daughter of Li Yuan (or Tang emperor Gaozu, r. 618-626), was buried with a grand military funeral since she made great contributions to her father’s enthronement and the founding of the Tang dynasty. Her courage and intelligence transcended that of ordinary people. She originally used her wealth to recruit several hundred loyal warriors and later gathered a force of tens of thousands of soldiers, personally leading them in several victories. Another woman who was buried with special musical honor was the mother of Empress Wu Zetian (r. 690-705, the only female monarch of ancient China).
Many figurines of like kind have been unearthed in large quantities in the tombs of many noblemen, including Princess Yongtai, Prince Zhanghuai, and Prince Yide. Burial objects were a status symbol and matched according to the deceased's official rank. Compared to horses ridden in hunting and battle, those in musical processions were smaller and were seldom outfitted with complex trappings, probably because they advanced slowly and allowed for the convenient playing of instruments.