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Imperial Saddle and Stirrups with Bridle


On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 378

Skillful horsemanship played a vital role in the military successes of the Manchu and was a key factor in the establishment of the Qing dynasty. Because of this, riding and the use of weapons on horseback for warfare or hunting became important aspects of Qing cultural identity. Elaborately decorated saddles were one highly visible way that Qing emperors and the military elite celebrated their equestrian heritage.

The visible areas of this saddle are covered entirely with carved red lacquer. This expensive and time-consuming technique was normally restricted to objects such as dishes and small boxes, which were luxury items made to be appreciated for their beauty and delicacy. Its use on a saddle, even one intended only for ceremonial purposes, is unprecedented and conveys the great wealth, taste, and refinement of its original owner. It is possible that this saddle was made in the imperial Palace Workshops (Zaoban chu), one of which was devoted solely to the production of saddles for the emperor.

In addition to their utilitarian function, stirrups, like saddles, were often beatifully decorated. Nearly all stirrups from China, Mongolia, and Tibet incorporated dragon heads into their design on either side of the slot at the center of the arch. This pair is very unusual for its lack of dragons and for its simple but elegant ornament, formed by a pattern of closely set, five-petal flower blossoms.

Imperial Saddle and Stirrups with Bridle, Lacquer, wood, gold, copper alloy, iron, leather, textile (silk, velvet, horsehair), Chinese

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