Pair of Tang Painted and Gilt Terracotta Tomb Guardians

SKU H.1092
Circa

618 AD to 906 AD

Dimensions

26″ (66.0cm) high

Medium

Painted Terracotta

Origin

China

Gallery Location

UK


 

The T’ang Dynasty was an era of unrivalled wealth and luxury. The country was successfully reunified and the borders were expanded, pushing Chinese influence into new lands. Confucianism became a quasi-religious instrument of the state; yet Buddhism continued to flourish, spreading into Korea and Japan. The arts reached new levels of sophistication. Poetry and literature flourished under the enlightened rulers. The Silk Road brought fortunes into China. Precious treasures were imported on the backs of camels from far away lands and bartered for Chinese silk, medicinal herbs, and pungent spices. T’ang China was a multicultural empire where foreign merchants from across Central Asia and the Middle East settled in the urban centers, foremost among them the thriving capital of Chang’an (modern X’ian), a bustling cosmopolitan center of over two million inhabitants. Foreign traders lived next to native artisans and both thrived. New ideas and exotic artistic forms followed alongside. The T’ang Dynasty was a cultural renaissance where many of the forms and objects we now associate with China were first created. Moreover, this period represents one of the greatest cultural outpourings in human history.

During the Tang Dynasty, restrictions were placed on the number of objects that could be included in tombs, an amount determined by an individual's social rank. In spite of the limitations, a striking variety of tomb furnishings, known as mingqi, have been excavated. Entire retinues of ceramic figures – animals, entertainers, musicians, guardians, etc. – were buried with the dead in order to provide for the afterlife. Every need was taken care of, from food and wine, to companionship and security. These two terracotta warriors are poised to protect their deceased lord. They wear armor consisting of shin guards, chest plates, and shoulder guards with curved tips. A decorative boss adorns the center of their chest plates. Helmets with dramatic upturned rims crown their heads. They stand in mirror-image postures, each holding one arm bent to the side with hand on hip and the other arm held forwards, elbow slightly bent. In this hand, they would have originally brandished weapons, perhaps swords or spears, made from a less durable material such as wood. Between the two figures, a remarkable amount of the original polychrome paint is still in tact. Their helmets were red; as were the long-sleeved garments they wear underneath their armor. The armor itself has been elegantly decorated by painted patterns with gilt highlights.

This pair bares a striking resemblance to the gods known as Lokapalas. Historically, these deities served as protectors of Buddhist temples; however, upon being assimilated into Chinese ideology, they assumed a mortuary role. However, neither warrior in this pair stands in the traditional stance of the Lokapala: subduing a demon or triumphing over a recumbent beast. Although these figures are slightly different, we can assume their role in the afterlife would have been the same. According to one Chinese tradition explaining their origin, Emperor Taizong when ill was threatened by ghosts outside of his room screeching and throwing bricks and tiles. When his general Jin Shubao and a fellow officer came to stand guard, the ghosts quit their harassment. The grateful emperor had portraits of the two men hung on either side of his palace gates, and thereafter their images became widespread as door-gods. Although they were intended to protect the tomb and ward off any infiltrators, be they tomb robbers or malevolent spirits, these warriors do not repel us; instead, their compelling history and stunning beauty attract us to them.

Both guardians are 26 inches high.

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