Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Architectural Ornament

late 19th–early 20th century
Indonesia, Sumatra
Toba Batak people
Wood, paint
H. 13 1/2 in. (34.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Fred and Rita Richman, 1988
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 355
Traditionally, Batak communal houses were richly decorated with geometric designs and naturalistic figures brightly painted in red, white, and black. The main decorative elements on the houses were large, carved animal heads incised with complex curvilinear motifs.

The architectural ornaments on the sides of the house consisted predominantly of horses' heads such as this one. These highly ornate pieces were not only decorative but also served as supernatural guardians that ensured the safety and security of the structure's inhabitants. In the Toba Batak region, horses were often consecrated to the three principal deities, and were believed to have the ability to transport individuals to the realm of the ancestors. They were also symbols of high status, since only the elite could afford to own them.
[Ben Tursch, Brussels, Belgium, until 1977]; Fred and Rita Richman, New York, 1977–1988

Barbier, Jean-Paul. En Pays Toba: les lambeaux de la tradition. Geneva: Musée Barbier-Mueller, 1982, pp. 77-113.

Capistrano-Baker, Florina H. Art of Island Southeast Asia: The Fred and Rita Richman Collection in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1994, p.128.

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