Penn Museum’s Own Piece of the Silk Road

January 25, 2011

During the height of the Silk Road and the bright beginnings of the Tang dynasty, China was ruled by one Emperor Tang Taizong. Taizong’s rule is remembered for its economic prosperity, cultural richness and cosmopolitanism, as well as for its unprecedented expansion of Chinese borders into the Western Xinjiang Regions. At the end of his life, he constructed for himself a grand tomb, the Zhaoling Mausoleum, about 52 miles from present-day Xi’an in China’s Shaanxi province. During the Tang dynasty, Xi’an was Chang’an, the capital of China and the eastern-most “endpoint” of the Silk Road. (In actuality, many tangible and intangible artifacts of the Silk Road continued to travel east to Japan and Korea.) Outside the sacrificial altar of his tomb, Taizong commissioned the sculpture of six of his favorite steeds in bas-relief. The Chinese Rotunda at the Penn Museum houses two of these sculptures depicting horses named Autumn Dew and Curly. (Penn Museum’s Head Conservator, Lynn Grant, documented their recent conservation on the Penn Museum Blog.)

East Asian Cultures and Languages graduate student, Sarah Laursen, speaks below on the history and significance of the museum’s noble steeds.

For further reading, the museum’s Senior Registrar Dr. Xiuqin Zhou also published this paper about the Zhaoling Mausoleum in Professor Victor Mair’s series of Sino Platonic Papers.

– Gabrielle Niu