Han Gan or Han Kan
Chinese, 8th century, male.
Active during the second half of the 8th century.
Although Han Gan painted figures, notably Buddhist frescoes, he is known principally as a horse painter, and the subject was elevated to the status of a genre partly on account of him. The importance of this genre may be explained by the significant role horses played during the Tang dynasty in China (618-907); the tool of conquest and of expansion towards central Asia, they were directly linked to the expansion of the Chinese empire’s geographical and cultural horizons. In addition, they were associated with various aristocratic entertainments, such as polo, hunting and jousting, and they were particularly prized at court, where huge, splendid stables were maintained. The imperial stables were home to 40,000 horses when Han Gan was summoned to work there. The best artists were invited to do portraits of the emperor’s favourite mounts, especially as a large number of these horses were sent to the capital as tribute by the distant regions of Ferghana and Khotan, and the paintings also immortalised the tribute paid by foreign nations to the Chinese court. As such, they take on a historical dimension....