Pair of Stirrups
Period: Tang Dynasty, circa AD 618-906
Culture: Chinese
Material: Bronze
Dimensions: 24 cm H
Pair of Stirrups
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A passion for horses ran throughout Chinese society. Used for military, commercial, and recreational purposes, the horse was important for the development and prosperity of the country as a whole, and was considered a mark of the elite. During the Han Dynasty, contacts with the peoples of Central Asia enabled the Chinese to discover new breeds of horse, specifically the fabled and highly sought-after Ferghana steeds from modern Uzbekistan, which were to be instrumental in the Emperor’s defeat of the barbarians. These larger, more powerful horses established the Silk Road and were referred to by the Chinese as ‘heavenly horses’.

The earliest Chinese stirrups seem to date from the fourth century AD, introduced in those regions where conflict between the nomads and the Chinese was prevalent – whilst the skilled nomadic Steppes people did not use stirrups, they were useful accoutrements for the Chinese, who endeavoured to match the proficiency of their opponents on horseback.

The present stirrups date from the Tang Dynasty, a period of unprecedented religious, artistic, and scholarly achievement in China. They conform to the standardized stirrup type at this time – oval in shape with a rectangular handle at the top for attaching the strap. Sturdy and practical, yet also of harmonious form and balance, the stirrups are worthy of the powerful steed they once adorned. The six horse bas-reliefs commissioned by Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty, clearly depict similar stirrups on the sovereign’s favoured horses 


Private Collection, New York, 1980s.