Benign but fearsome, this pair of unusually large and meticulously detailed figures exemplifies ceramic technique in Tang China. The facial features and elaborate costumes of these tomb guardians are realised with a convincing naturalism combined with iconographic stylisation. Their dynamic and dramatic poses are characteristic of figures that were placed in the four corners of the tomb to ward off evil spirits. Guardian figures such as these, termed 'lokapalas' or guardian kings, became assimilated into the popular concept of the Four Heavenly Kings of Buddhism, or 'tian wang'. The demonic appearance of this pair is heightened by their flamboyant armour with its flaring epaulettes and prominent breastplates. Also typical is their heroic pose: by standing on or trampling a demon or animal the guardians demonstrate their power over natural elements and evil forces.
Art Gallery Handbook, 1999. pg. 250.
Place where the work was made
Tang dynasty 618 - 907 → China
late 6th century-early 7th century
earthenware with traces of red and orange pigment over white slip
a - guardian - left hand raised; 93 x 39 x 23 cm
b - guardian - right hand raised; 92 x 39 x 23 cm
Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation Purchase 1990
Where the work was made
Shown in 3 exhibitions
Great gifts, great patrons, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 17 Aug 1994–19 Oct 1994
Buddhist Art from the Collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 06 May 1995–10 Sep 1995
Conversations through the Asian collections, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 25 Oct 2014–28 Feb 2016
Referenced in 12 publications
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Great gifts, great patrons: an exhibition celebrating private patronage of the Gallery, Sydney, 1994. no catalogue numbers
Edmund Capon, Art Gallery of New South Wales: highlights from the collection, Sydney, 2008, 168 (colour illus.), 169.
Edmund Capon, Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation Annual Report 1997, Sydney, 1997, 15 (colour illus.).
Terry Ingram, The Australian financial review, 'Oriental art finds in Australia may be the tip of an iceberg', pg. 36-37, Sydney, 27 Feb 1990, 36 (illus.) 37.
Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Asian Collection: East Asia', pg. 246-287, Sydney, 1999, 250 (colour illus.). See 'Further Information' for text.
Jackie Menzies and Edmund Capon, Asian Collection Handbook, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1990, 2 (colour illus.).
Jackie Menzies, The Art Gallery of New South Wales collections, 'Asian Art - India, South-East Asia, China, Tibet, Korea, Japan', pg. 173-228, Sydney, 1994, 192, 193 (colour illus.).
Jackie Menzies (Editor), The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Tomb Sculpture', Sydney, 2003, 82-83 (colour illus.). The colour illus. on page 83 is a detail of this work.
Belinda Oxley, Read-to-go Art Picture pack, Glebe, 2000, card no. 12 (colour illus.).
Public Programmes Department, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Adventures in Asia. An education kit for the Asian gallery, Sydney, 2003, cover introduction booklet (illus.), 4 (colour illus.). card no.4; illus. on introduction booklet is figure b of the two guardians
Zoë Ross (Editor), Eyewitness travel guides: Australia, 'Botanic gardens and the domain', pg. 100-111, London, 1998, 107 (colour illus.).
Michael Wardell, Look, 'Foundation building', pg.14-17, Sydney, Sep 2004, 17.