Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Belt Plaque in the Shape of a Crouching Horse

3rd–1st century B.C.
North China
H. 3 3/16 in. (8.1 cm); L. 5 11/16 in. (14.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Ernest Erickson Foundation, 1985
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 207
Intriguing metal artifacts such as this silver plaque and scattered references in Chinese and Western histories are our only sources of information about the numerous pastoral, seminomadic, and horse-riding tribes that inhabited the vast reaches of Central Asia traversed by the Silk Road.
Most likely used as an adornment on a bridle or other equine accoutrement, this small plaque illustrates the dissemination of artistic motifs across Asia. The beaklike shape of the horse's muzzle, the dramatic twist of its hindquarters, and the lively openwork frame all reflect an imagery and stylistic approach found in objects made earlier by Indo-European Scythian peoples living on the Iranian plateau and in the area around the Black Sea. Comparable motifs appear in tattoos on the body from tomb 2 at Pazyryk, in the Altai mountains of southern Siberia. Eight of the twenty-five burial mounds (kurgan) at that site, currently dated between the late fourth and early third century B.C., have yielded textiles and metalwork from West and Central Asia as well as silk, lacquer, and metalwork from China.
This plaque was cast in silver and has remnants of gilding on its surface. It was probably made in North China for a member of the Yuezhi or one of the other confederacies in Central Asia that maintained an active trade with various Chinese centers, exchanging furs and carpets for commodities such as grain and luxuries such as silk or metalwork.
#8986. Overview: Decorative Animal-shaped Ornaments
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For Audio Guide tours and information, visit
The Ernest Erickson Foundation, Inc. , New York (until 1985; donated to MMA)
Tokyo National Museum. "Mounted Nomads of the Asian Steppe: Chinese Northern Bronzes," March 25, 1997–May 5, 1997.

Yokohama. Equine Museum of Japan. "Mounted Nomads of the Asian Steppe: Chinese Northern Bronzes," May 13, 1997–June 22, 1997.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Arts of Ancient China," 2005.

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