Set of saddle plates, ca. 1400
Tibetan or Chinese
Iron, gold, lapis lazuli, turquoise; H. as mounted 9 7/8 in. (25 cm)
Purchase, Gift of William H. Riggs, by exchange, and Kenneth and Vivian Lam Gift, 1999 (1999.118)
This set of saddle plates represents a high point in the medium of pierced ironwork, equaling or excelling anything of its type. Each plate is chiseled from a single piece of iron. The long, thin, four-clawed dragons, chiseled in high relief in great detail, are cut entirely free from the surrounding scrollwork ground so that they appear to move within it. The scroll patterns are undercut to give the appearance of depth and overlapping, in addition to the areas that actually overlap the bodies of the dragons. There is a Wish-Granting Jewel motif made from pieces of blue and green turquoise set in shaped compartments in the center of both the pommel and the cantle, and scattered lotus blossoms made in the same way. The outer edges of the plates are bordered by rows of half-round pieces of lapis. The iron surfaces of the plates are damascened overall with gold foil, and the precision and fineness of the crosshatching beneath the gold is exceptional.