Pair of large guardians

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Tang Dynasty, 618 - 907 AD
Earthenware with pigment
95 cm

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These two large guardians form a fearsome and dynamic pair. They were placed near the entrance of a tomb to protect the deceased from evil forces. The detailed and naturalistic figures are standing on a crescent-shaped plinth, in a slight contrapposto. They are wearing close-fitted armor consisting of a detailed breastplate over a tunic with fearsome animal masks with sharp teeth and angry eyes at the sleeve, and a high collar. The breastplate is fastened with straps and buckles. The sleeves of their tunics have a turned-up rim, their arms are protected with armor. Underneath the armor they are wearing a long and flowing undergarment, which reveals their pointed shoes. To complete their armor they are wearing a helmet with an upturned brim, framing their expressive faces, with bulging eyes and frowned eyebrows. They both have their right arm lowered with the hand in their waist, the left arm is raised, with a closed hand. Originally they held a wooden spear or other weaponry in this hand, but these vanished over time. There are traces of red, white and black pigment, especially in the faces and the tunics.

Guardian figures such as these, also called lokapalas, played an important part in Tang burial rituals, and also show the influence and adaptation of Buddhism in Chinese culture. During the Tang dynasty, a period of unprecedented cultural and literary heights,  there were many contacts with foreigners and other cultures. These contacts, bringing new forms of art and culture,  influenced great parts of Chinese cultural history. The figures resemble the Buddhist traditional guardians, like the Four Heavenly Kings, who watched over the four cardinal directions. Over time the features of these Chinese guardians would transform into naturalistic human figures in a heroic pose, with a stylised but frightening appearance. 


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