Item ref: 4067
Private collection, Copenhagen
The saddles of the eastern steppe and the Tibetan plateau from the fourth century onwards are renowned for their exquisite metal fittings. These saddle fittings belong to the rarer group with a narrow, square-topped pommel and a low, reclining cantle, comparable to two saddles in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and another in the Rubin Museum, New York. Both mounts are fretted with sinuous, four-clawed dragons within a spiral foliate ground at either side of a vajra, or thunderbolt, surrounded by a halo of flames, all mercury gilded over silver. The borders are plain and silvered.
Like the saddle in the Royal Armouries, Leeds, the fretted decoration has additional relief, the dragons carved separately and inserted within the foliate fretwork. The pommel retains six of the original nails by which it was secured to its wooden saddle tree.
Comparable saddles include those in the Musée d’Ethnographie de Neuchâtel, Switzerland and one in Drepung Loseling Monastery, India, which is said to have been used by the Fifth Dalai Lama in the seventeenth century. Several towns in the Derge kingdom of eastern Tibet such as Horpo (Hepo, 河坡) were famous for this type of decorative fretted and gilded iron work, especially saddles, while very similar techniques were practised just over the border in the Jinchuan region of western Sichuan in China.