chapter  1
Encountering a Chinese horse: engaging with the thingness of things: Sandra H. Dudley
WithSANDRA H. DUDLEY
Pages 15

In 2010, I visited for the fi rst time the art gallery at Compton Verney in Warwickshire, England. As well as notable collections of Neopolitan, British, northern European and folk art, Compton Verney holds one of the top three Chinese collections in Europe,2 centred on bronze ritual vessels and other objects. I did not know this, however, as my visit began and as I walked into the fi rst room of Chinese artefacts. The room was lined with sparsely fi lled and elegantly lit cases of bronze vessels, and alone, facing the entrance to the room, on a plinth in the middle of the fl oor and without any glass around it, stood what to me seemed an extraordinarily beautiful and animated, bronze fi gure of a horse. The horse was green, over a metre high, and stood considerably higher still as a result of its plinth. I was utterly spellbound by its majestic form, its power, and, as I began to look at it closely, its material details: its greenish colour, its textured surface, the small areas of damage. I wanted to touch it, though of course I could not – but that did not stop me imagining how it would feel to stroke it, or how it would sound if I could tap the metal, or how heavy it would be if I could try to pick it up. I was, in other words, sensorially exploring the object, even though I had to intuit and imagine rather than directly experience most of the encounter. There was no label at all adjacent to the object, only a small number which correlated to the interpretive text on the gallery hand guide that I had not yet picked up. I still knew nothing at all about this artefact, other than that it clearly represented a horse and that I guessed it was made of bronze; nonetheless, its threedimensionality, tactility and sheer power had literally moved me to tears. I allowed myself considerable time to refl ect upon that feeling and upon the object, before I picked up the hand guide.