Object: Royal Ontario Museum Tang Tomb Guardian

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Description: The self-confidence and vigour of the Tang dynasty were given three-dimensional form in this magnificent tomb guardian. He embodies also the eclecticism of an age which drew from China’s past and welcomed the foreign. Five hundred years earlier, the doorways of Eastern Han tombs were watched by paintings of leashed dogs and armed guards, and in the Northern Wei beast-bodied spirits and soldiers, larger than their fellows in the tomb, stood watch in pairs. The guardians of Northern Qi and Sui were often placed on a rocky base to enhance their status within the tomb, but they were clearly mortals – grim warriors, realistically portrayed. By the early eighth century, when this figure was made, tomb guardians had become ‘heavenly kings’ dressed in magnificent armour with arms raised high to hold their weapons. This figure wears a helmet crested with a vermilion bird and stands upon a bull. Others trample demons under foot or wear their hair pulled up into a distinctive knot in the fashion of the guardian deities of Buddhism.
Publications: Far Eastern Department, Royal Ontario Museum (1992), Homage to Heaven, Homage to Earth: Chinese Treasures of the Royal Ontario Museum, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, pl. 81. China Science and Technology Palace Preparatory Committee and the Ontario Science Centre (1982), China: 7000 Years of Discovery, p. 44. Proctor, Patricia (1979), “Royal Ontario Museum, Far Eastern Department: Chinese Ceramics”, Arts of Asia 9, no. 2, pp. 84-105: fig. 23

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