Tang Sculpture of a Spirit Guardian

SKU H.517

618 AD to 907 AD


15.25″ (38.7cm) high x 6″ (15.2cm) wide





Gallery Location



The second flowering of tomb figurines occurred during the reunification of the empire under the Sui (581-618) through the first half of the Tang (618-907). Tang figurines reflect the wealth, vitality, and openness of a great empire. A gradual evolution occurred in the choice of tomb objects emphasizing more ceremonial aspects of daily life and the supernatural quality of guardian beings. Buddhist Guardian Kings and animal guardians rose to become some of the most prized subjects, valued for the importance they served in protecting the tombs and the dead. This figurine of an animal guardian is characteristic of the human-animal hybrid creatures chosen to guard the entrances of tomb quarters. Spiky wings on the forequarters adorn the body of a crouching lion with cloven hooves and a curled tail. A horn of twisted hair rising from the head and a menacing expression–snouted nose, flared nostrils, tensed forehead, glaring eyes–capture the bestiality of this supernatural being intended to ward off evil and wrongdoing. The colors have worn over time, but patches of red, blue, and white paint adhere to the surface. The Tang period is the high point in the history of Chinese tomb figurines. The important role assigned to these models in Tang tomb arrangements and their significances as status symbols and powerful guardians protecting the dead meant that these clay figures became luxury objects. Created during one of the greatest periods in Chinese history, they reflect the artistic vitality of the time and give a unique glimpse into the luxurious and sophisticated world of contemporary upper class life. This figurine of a guardian beast is a great addition to collection of tomb objects, representing the changes in subject material that occurred in the mingqi industry of the Tang Dynasty.

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