Many tomb sculptures from the Tang period (618-906) are coated with the vibrant lead glazes known as three-color or sancai. Lively horses standing in a wide array of poses are among the most famous examples of Tang-period sancai wares. Horses were an important part of the funerary regalia of high-ranking officials and members of the imperial family. Many of these horses have saddles, bridles, and other ornaments that illustrate the manner in which horses were outfitted during the Tang dynasty; the type and degree of adornment on a horse also reflected the status of the deceased. Sancai ceramic sculptures were made of earthenware using molds, and in most Tang-period examples the horse and its saddlery were made in one piece from a single mold.
This unadorned horse, which lacks a tail and a mane, illustrates a second type of Tang horse that appears to have been made during the early decades of the 8th century. Unlike the more colorful version of the sancai glazes used in making horses that have saddlery, the coloring of this horse is very subtle, consisting of a cream body with amber-brown markings. It has been suggested that the tails and manes of horses of this type were made of perishable material such as hair, while their saddles, bridles, and other fittings may have been made of bronze or even a more precious metal.
Horses of this type have been found in pairs: usually one horse has a lowered head, as seen in this example, while the other raises its head to neigh. The pairing of horses, the possible use of metalwork to make the saddlery, and the dating of this type of horse to the early 8th century suggest links between the production of such horses and the use of sancai figurines in the imperial reburials of that period.