Zhao Lin (active twelfth century), Jin dynasty
Handscroll, ink and color on silk, h: 27.4 cm, w: 444.9 cm
This painting is modeled on the six stone horses at the Zhaoling tomb, the tomb of Tang dynasty emperor Taizong (r. 627-649). Each section depicts one horse and an inscription. The artist not only was faithful to the original but also gave full play to the painting media. Through excellent technique of painting and coloring, these horses are more lifelike than the stone ones. The artist was able to portray the lively movement of the horse in any position, even showing them galloping on the battlefield.
The painting of the dark red horse named Saluzi being led by a servant is the most splendid of the six. The story of this horse is in the Former Tang History: Biography of Wang Xinggong
(Jiu tangshu: Wang Xinggong zhuan
). Wang Xinggong once went to the Qi Mountain for the emperor Taizong (r.627-649) to fight against Wang Shichong (?-621). The emperor wanted to ascertain the strength of the enemy, so he led a cavalry charge at the enemy's rear. The Tang forces defeated the enemy, killing many of them. However, several enemy soldiers attacked Taizong and shot at him. Wang Xinggong shot back and saved his emperor. Since Taizong's horse was injured, Wang Xinggong gave his horse to him and protected him back to their troops. Taizong ordered a statue of Wang Xinggong with the emperor's wounded horse to be included on the spirit path in front of his tomb. This sculpture depicts their figures exactly. A burly man, Wang Xinggong uses his right hand to pull an arrow out of the horse's wither and strokes it with his left hand. It seems that he is very fond of this lively steed. Though the horse is in pain, it manages to stand still. In these ways, the painting is more expressive than the stone sculpture.
All six horses have been on battlefields, so they seem ready for battle. Two horses are depicted walking. The horse with the black muzzle called Quanmaocong is striding proudly ahead, displaying its outstanding qualities. Another three are leaping forward or galloping. Although they are in different positions, they all have high spirits. Among horse paintings of all periods, this painting is considered a masterpiece.
This painter assimilated the artistic traditions of horse-painting from the Tang, especially from the master Han Gan (ca. 715-after 781), and the Northern Song dynasty. The painting is simple and realistic with fine brushstrokes and heavy color. This painting is very precious because it is Zhao Lin's only extant work with a brief inscription by the famous Jin dynasty poet and calligrapher Zhao Bingwen (1159-1232). The six-horse sculptures were carved as stone tablets in the Song dynasty. Since the painting is almost identical with rubbings from the Song dynasty tablets, Zhao Lin presumably used them as his reference. (Today, four of the six stone tablets are in the Shanxi History Museum.)
Tribute to the Stone Horses at the Zhaoling Tomb
(Zhaoling shima ge
) written by the Qianlong Emperor of the Qing dynasty precedes the painting. Zhao Bingwen's inscription at the end indicates that Zhao Lin is the painter.
The painting was included in The Precious Collection of the Stone Moat
) and Essays of the Stone Moat
), two books on the traditional painting and calligraphy.