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Rare Seven Foot Stone Horse from the Chinese Ming Dynasty Expected to Fetch in Excess of £100,000
This horse will be offered at Duke's Auction House of Dorchester, UK. Friday July 28.
DORCHESTER.- As the director of one of Switzerland’ leading luxury stores and a renowned collector himself, Hans Langhard, alongside his broker, Mr. Lee of Hollywood Street, Hong Kong, were responsible for the export to the West of many oriental artefacts during the 1970’s and 1980’s. His close relationship with the Chinese government allowed him to act as an official conduit for antiques exported from the East and marketed for sale in the West. Of particular interest to Langhard were early Chinese antiquities from the Tang and Ming dynasties, many of which came to light during the numerous tomb excavations taking place at this time, notably the excavations in the early 1980’s of the burial site built by Zhu Yuan Zhang for his forbears between 1386 and 1413.

This horse is one of 6 funerary sculptures that were exported from Hong Kong by Langhard. On hearing the news of the shipment, Ernst Gamper, a wealthy man and treasurer to the Reitberg Museum, Zurich, arranged the delivery of the sculptures to the Museum where he purchased a warrior and one horse for the museum collection. Professor Brinker, director of the Reitberg Museum at the time recalls opening the wooden crates containing the horses for the first time and carefully recorded the two sculptures being retained by the museum (inventory number RCH 172, 1982). The warrior and horse form part of the permanent collection at the museum today. After Langhard’s death in 2007 his great friend Mr. Leu inherited his estate and the horse sculpture offered here for sale. A copy of the original private sales brochure for the sculptures found at Langhard’s home record the sale of the warrior and horse to the museum.

Alexandra Von Przychowski, assistant curator of the Chinese department at the Reitberg has indicated many similarities between the horse here offered for sale, the examples at the Reitberg and other known gravestone sculpture dating from the 14th and 15th centuries. Of particular note is the size - many of the Imperial horses extend to over 2 metres in height whereas those of lesser dignitaries were much smaller, the size of the sculptures being dictated by the Chinese courts. The arrangement of carving to the robes in the Reitberg example is almost identical to this example with the consistent use of shi-shi and the Buddhist swastika symbol, yung dung, symbolic of eternal life. Though the overall design of the Reitberg horse is different (the original block form and lack of naturalistic shaping is evident) and is in a more preserved state than the example here, both appear to be made from the same type of stone and carved using the same technique. Considering these factors and the known provenance, it is therefore likely that the horse now offered for sale is a direct relation to the example in the Reitberg, likely to be from the same geographical source and dateline.

A translation from a Swiss newspaper article dated 29th January 1983 quoting Professor Brinker, further confirms the identification of the horses: "They are made of stone blocks carved larger than life, a warrior standing in full armour, his hands closed before his body and a life-size standing horse, saddled and bridled. Both figures once lined an avenue in pairs leading to the tombs of a noble Chinese man of high rank. Stylistically and geographically they must relate to mausoleum of Zhu Yuan Zhang in the capital Nanjing. The closed design of the warrior who stares wide eyed into the distance and the blocky design of the horse are characteristic for the style of the monumental stone sculptures from the period of the Ming emperor. The sculptor has created strong, detailed contrasts in the armour, saddle cloth and tail of the horse, worked by hand masterfully. His interest focuses on creating different textures in the medium of stone. This is another feature which characterized gravestone guardian figures from the Ming period.... The two figures are the best that can be seen in museums outside China



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