Set of Saddle Plates

Date: ca. 1400

Culture: Tibetan or Chinese

Medium: Iron, gold, lapis lazuli, turquoise

Dimensions: H. 10 7/8 in. (27.6 cm); L. 23 1/2 in. (59.7 cm); W. 13 3/4 in. (34.9 cm)

Classification: Equestrian Equipment-Saddles

Credit Line: Purchase, Gift of William H. Riggs, by exchange, and Kenneth and Vivian Lam Gift, 1999

Accession Number: 1999.118a–g


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, carved in high relief in great detail, are cut entirely free from the surrounding scrollwork ground so that they can move slightly within it. The scroll patterns are undercut to give the appearance of depth and overlap, in addition to the areas where the bodies of the dragons actually do overlap. There is a Wish-Granting Jewel motif made with 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 semicircular pieces of lapis. The iron surfaces of the plates are damascened completely with gold foil, and the precision and fineness of the cross-hatching beneath the gold are exceptional.