Item: cc1268

Antique Sino-Tibetan Iron Horse Saddle (gser ga). Tibet, Circa 1700



    Length: 61 cm

    Width: 30.5 cm

    Height: 25.4 cm

    Weight: 11.5 lbs Price on request

    A classic representative of a well-known form of horse saddle from Tibet or ga, this object is preserved in fine condition, retaining almost the entirety of the original silver damascene that has been embellished with mercury gilding. A form that is likely to have been influenced by similar Chinese forms, this type of saddle, with an outward curving saddle pommel with a slight inner hemispherical depression at the top of the pommel, is known in various institutional collections.

    In the Metropolitan Museum, a representative example of this form, though without the saddle cloth can be found under Acc. Nr. 1997.214.1. Others can be found in the Musee d’Ethnographie de Neuchatel in Switzerland, the Royal Armoury in Leeds, U.K., and the Drepung Loseling Monastery in India. The example in the Drepung Loseling Monastery was purported to have been used by the fifth Dalai Lama in the 17th century (Ngawang Lobsang Gyatso (1617 to 1682) and was used by the current Dalai Lama, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, born Tenzing Gyatso, in the 1930s sometime after his ascendance to the role of the Dalai Lama (LaRocca 2006). The decoration on our example closely matches that object and others, though they are differentiated by the level and depth of the iron carving, the amount of gilding over silver, and other details such as the underlying decoration, which is designed to form a matrix to accentuate the brightly silvered and gilded iron. As is typical in this group, the front plate features a single asymmetrical dragon, holding a pearl in a four-clawed hand surrounded by chiseled cloud scrolls. The bottom of the front plate also typically features carved overlapping circles creating a wave-like pattern. The side plates also feature chiseled dragons while the back plate has two dragons in symmetry focused on the Three Jewels, representing the Precious Jewel and Wish Fulfilling Jewel on either side of a single flaming pearl (LaRocca 2006).

    This saddle clearly demonstrates a working life, as the saddle cloth is a traditionally made Tibetan cloth of early 20th century manufacture with green and red felt decoration, featuring a stylized double vajra on the seat, formed from four lotus-mounted vajra-heads that emanate from a central hub towards the four cardinal directions, symbolizing the principle of absolute stability. Beer (2003) notes:

    “In the cosmographic description of Mount a vast crossed vajra supports and underlies the entire physical universe. Similarly in the representation of the mandala, a vast crossed vajra serves as the immoveable support or foundation of the mandala palace and here the central hub of the vajra is considered to be dark blue in colour with the four heads coloured to represent the four directions-white (East), yellow (South), red (West) and green (North).”

    If the saddle’s gilded (yellow) and silvered iron (white) are representative of the East and the South, then the additional colors of red and green would have been a completion of recognition in color of the four cardinal directions. As noted by LaRocca, the Metropolitan Museum example has two underlying layers of decoration in addition to the front plates. On this example, the underlying layer is a green layer of shagreen laid over the timber, which is now difficult to see but visible in certain areas. The condition of the plates is generally excellent with much of the original mercury gilding but with a small loss of iron on two of the side plates, which does not detract from the overall appearance. Overall a powerful representative of this class of saddle with fine quality Tibetan ironwork decoration.


    Private U.K. collection

    Jonathan Tucker and Antonia Tozer

    References: Beer, R. (2003). The Handbook of Tibetan Buddhist Symbols. Shambhala Publications; Boulder, CO

    Larocca, D. (2006). Warriors of the Himalayas: Rediscovering the Arms and Armor of Tibet. Metropolitan Museum of Art New York