Architectural Ornament

Date: late 19th–early 20th century

Geography: Indonesia, Sumatra

Culture: Toba Batak people

Medium: Wood, paint

Dimensions: H. 13 1/2 in. (34.3 cm)

Classification: Wood-Sculpture

Credit Line: Gift of Fred and Rita Richman, 1988

Accession Number: 1988.143.68


Among the Toba Batak people of northern Sumatra, communal houses were, and in some areas still are, richly adorned with ornate architectural carvings, painted in red, white, and black. The carvings consisted primarily of foliate geometric designs in low relief interspersed with the heads or figures of real or fantastic creatures, carved in the round. Although the ends of the house were adorned primarily with images of singa (composite creatures that served as supernatural guardians), the sides of the houses were often decorated with horses' heads, such as the present work, which also served as supernatural protectors. In Toba Batak religion, horses were believed to have the ability to carry individuals to the land of the ancestors. On earth, they served as status symbols, as only wealthy members of the elite could afford to own them.