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HOME : Chinese Art : Tang Dynasty : Pair of Tang Dynasty terracotta guardians
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Pair of Tang Dynasty terracotta guardians - NP.016
Circa: 618 AD to 906 AD
Dimensions: 29" (73.7cm) high x 13" (33.0cm) wide

Location: Great Britain
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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.

Buddhist guardian beings, including both supernatural humans and animals, reflected this trend toward elaborateness as they functioned to provide protection, links with the spirit world, and status. This pair of dynamic warriors bares a striking resemblance to the Buddhist warrior deities known as Lokapalas that have their origins as protectors of Buddhist temples but assumed a mortuary role in China. However, these warriors do not stand in the traditional stance of the Lokapala, subduing a demon or triumphing over a recumbent beast. Although this pair of figures is slightly different, we can assume their role in the afterlife would have been the same.

These warriors are poised for battle, arms raised in the air, mouths held open as if emitting a battle cry. According to one Chinese tradition explaining their origin, the emperor Taizong when ill was threatened by ghosts outside of his room screeching and throwing bricks and tiles. When his general Jin Shubao (Chin Shu-pao) and a fellow officer came to stand guard the activity of the ghosts ceased. 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. Originally, these warriors would have brandished weapon in their hands. Most likely swords or spears, these weapons were probably fabricated in a material such as wood that deteriorated over the centuries. They stand on bean-shaped bases, wearing pointed helmets with upturned brims and plates of armor covering their shoulders and torsos. 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 aesthetic beauty attracts us. - (NP.016)


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