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Already part dragon

The horse has broken loose and rushes forward in a passionate charge, provoking a climate of dramatic tension - but why the rush? It is all Baroque - Chinese Baroque.

During the Han Dynasty in China (201 BC to 220 AD) there was a commonly held belief that some horses had the power to transform themselves into dragons. This bronze sculpture is a rare embodiment of that idea. The horse, already part dragon, is starting to fly through the air. It is a marvelous work of art, the weight masterfully distributed, the action perfectly portrayed.

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The polished sculpture measures only 14 by 18 inches. Such dimensions permit the viewer to perceive the physical aspect at one glance. They determine the rhythm of construction and the resonance of the voids. The surrounding space acts as a uniting force.

The sculpture, excavated in 1969 from a Han Dynasty tomb in western China's Kansu Province, was part of a large store of small objects including 38 other bronze horses, carriages, drivers, and attendants.

Chinese civilization, thousands of years old, lives on as vigorous as ever. Modern archaeology has authenticated the story of ancient origins, integrating dates and information. During the last 30 years, in particular, numerous important digs have brought to light many treasures, some still undergoing careful study.

Large and fascinating exhibitions sent out by the Chinese amaze a world where poetry is not always a normal part of existence, as it is in their country. Poetry is to them a philosophy of life.

Early in the vigorous Han Dynasty, the Chinese penetrated westward, gradually learning of other civilizations. They opened the fabled ''Silk Road,'' so called because China's principal export was exquisite material made from fibers produced by the silkworms, cultivated by them since time immemorial. The caravan route, followed for centuries, eventually extended all the way to the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, visited already by ships from Europe. It was the first milestone in the history of friendly relations between China and the West.

Along with considerable progress in astronomy, mathematics, literature, and the very important invention of paper, a great development in art took place. Human beings and animals came to be represented in masterpieces of lively realism. Sculptures were expressively and accurately formed, products of an art and of a technology at a very exceptional level. Only a free and able dynamic imagination could have brought about the ''Bronze Galloping Horse.''

We can rejoice in China's remarkable archaeological discoveries, considering them greetings from men at the same time distant from and very close to us.

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