Horse, Night-Shining White

, Night-Shining White

Hand Scroll, ink on paper
H.30.8 X W.34.0cm
Metropolitan Museum, New York

Han Gan (c. 742-783), China

Story starts at the eight-century China.

A painter of the Tang court, Han’s horse paintings are of particular renown. Night – Shining White is valued for its reflection of the artist’s free sprit. 

The horse is a spiritual symbol of perpetual evolution, derived from the Book of Change (Yi Jing).  It was also used as a military vehicle and men hoped to serve the emperor in the same manner the horse served in war.

Han, advised by the emperor to copy the horse paintings of Cao Ba in his collection, elegantly reproves His Majesty, arguing he should not be studying the old master, but instead the horses of the imperial stable are his true teachers. In the painting the horse, proud, stocky and defiant, struggled to be released from its chains. Does this suggest the spirit of the artist who, like the animal, is trying to break free of his master’s control?


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