Jade Alert Horse and Rider

Jade Alert Horse and Rider

Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220CE)

Height: 2 inches (5 cm) Width: 1.5 inches (3.8cm)

The color of this small-scale sculpture of a bareback rider is a shiny translucent white. The image features a male rider without saddle, stirrups, or bridle on the back of an alert horse who stands on all fours on top of a rectangular flat base, gently rounded at the edges. Both rider and horse face forward and the rider holds onto the neck of the horse with two hands. He grips the horse with his legs. The rider wears a short jacket with lapels open at the neck and cuffs at the wrists. A broad belt binds the waist. The rider wears pants that are identified by cuffs just above boots with upturned toes.

Curling lines suggesting stylized folds decorate the knee, hip, back and chest of the figure. Facial features are Chinese. The hair is parted at the back and swept upwards into a bun at the top of the head. The horse is stocky and strong with bulging chest, wide neck and short legs. The tail is naturalistically treated as if blown by the wind in swinging up on the right side of the horse’s croup. The head is very large and square, as typifies the tendency of the period in emphasizing and idealizing the strength of the horse.

This horse, as with the Warring States example excavated from a tomb in the Ancient City of the Lu State in Chufu, Shandong, stands on a small square stand. Unlike the latter and more in tune with small jade works of art from Han and later Jin eras, this sculpture is pure translucent white in color and is vigorously yet abstractly rendered. The piece that comes to mind for comparison is the small bareback immortal holding lingzhi-fungus, on the back of a winged horse that was unearthed from environs of the Han royal tomb of Yuan Di at Welling Xinzhuang, Xianyang, Shaanxi province (see Zhonggup yuqi quanji, vol.4, pl.147 and text p.274).

Although the exhibited horse is not advancing, as is the Shangong example and the head of the exhibited horse is drawn in, as if in preparation to move when summoned, the two are qualitatively and stylistically similar. In terms of gesture, both figures gram on to the horse’s neck for support. Both faces of the figures have high foreheads and oval-shaped heads. Although the exhibited piece has more finely rendered details, as expressed in the tail of the horse and hair of the figure, since the two are closely similar stylistically it is suggested that this piece also derives from a royal burial of Eastern Han or slightly later date.


  • Provenance: Dr. Howard Carolyn Balensweig Collection, New York City
  • Published: Lustrous, Enduring, and Translucent: Jades From Traditional China, Weisbrod Chinese Art, Ltd., 1999, number 65, page 117.
  • Exhibited: Lustrous, Enduring, and Translucent: Jades From Traditional China, Weisbrod Chinese Art, Ltd., 1999, number 65, page 117.