Pommel Plate from a Saddle

Date: 13th–15th century

Culture: Mongolian (Central or West Asian) or Tibetan

Medium: Iron, gold, silver

Dimensions: 5 5/8 x 10 1/2 in. (14.3 x 26.7 cm)

Classification: Saddle Plates

Credit Line: Purchase, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Gift, 2010

Accession Number: 2010.336


The practice of adorning Asiatic saddles with gold or silver plates originated among the nomads on the steppes of central Asia in the fourth or fifth century. Saddle plates made of pierced iron and decorated with gold or silver damascening, like this example, did not occur until approximately one thousand years later, mainly in Tibet but also in China. This strongly suggests that pierced iron saddle plates were an innovation of Tibetan or Mongol craftsmen during the Yuan dynasty. The pierced foliate ground and damascening technique on this pommel plate (for the front, or pommel, of a saddle) are very similar to the work on Tibetan saddles, but this is the only known example featuring human figures or a secular scene of any kind, in this case a tiger hunt. Similar hunting scenes occur frequently, however, on early fourteenth-century Persian metalwork, particularly candlesticks, from the Ilkhanate, a state founded by the Mongols in Persia in the thirteenth century. This fact, combined with the Mongolian headdresses and features of the hunters, indicates that the plate was probably made for a Mongol patron in either western Asia or Tibet.