Tang Dynasty Terracotta Spirit Guardian

SKU NP.015
Additional Information

Can pair with TF.013


618 AD to 906 AD


24″ (61.0cm) high x 8″ (20.3cm) wide





Gallery Location



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 semi-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.

As new philosophical and religious strands penetrated the thought system of early China, the subject matter of tomb objects and tomb patterns changed. The past practice of entombing elite members of society with earthenware objects continued throughout the early and middle Tang period, but the earlier emphasis placed on recreating daily life shifted to flaunting status and excess. Tombs were no longer “underground houses,” but became a landscape with murals depicting the palaces, gardens, and open countryside in which the nobles passed their lives. 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 have been excavated. Entire retinues of ceramic figures – animals, entertainers, musicians, guardians – were buried with the dead.

Originating during the Six Dynasties period (222-589 A.D.), this type of figure is known as a tomb guardian, for originally, a pair of such figures always stood guard at the tombs of Chinese rulers. Traditionally, both figures in the pair are mythological composite creatures, one always an amalgamation various animals while the other combined of human and animal traits. These guardians were interred in order to ward off potential tomb robbers or evil spirits that might try to infiltrate the tomb. This mythological beast combines the body and face of a feline with the legs and hooves of a horse. A pointed central antler emerges from in between his upright ears. His snarling face, complete with fangs, has been expertly rendered, conveying a determined expression that is fierce and intimidating. While just half of a pair, this guardian stands alone, revealing the exotic beauty of these fantastical creatures.

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