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Asian art

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A pair of tomb guardian figures

late 6th century-early 7th century


Unknown Artist


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

Media category


Materials used

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


Not on display

Accession number



Where the work was made

Shown in 3 exhibitions

Exhibition history

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 AM, OBE, Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation Annual Report 1997, Sydney, 1997, 15 (colour illus.).

Edmund Capon AM, OBE, Art Gallery of New South Wales: highlights from the collection, Sydney, 2008, 168 (colour illus.), 169.

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, AGNSW 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.

Jackie Menzies and Edmund Capon AM, OBE, Asian Collection Handbook, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1990, 2 (colour illus.).

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.