tomb guardian

Tang dynasty

Currently on View in K306.p1
Image Licensing

The curled, right-hand fingers and the bend of the back appear naturalistic, but the exaggerated facial features create a fierce appearance.

Noticing how little the lead glaze ran reveals the superior control of the firing process.

The bull gives scale to the size of this powerful figure and suggests a derivation from the Buddhist guardian of the south, which was the preferred direction for doors, whether imperial or tomb.

Indianapolis Museum of Art: Highlights of the Collection (2005)

This figure’s alert, defensive posture expresses great energy. His raised left hand would have grasped a lance or pike. Though his fierce face looks rather naturalistic, the curled, curving brow evokes this tomb guardian’s superhuman force. He stands on a bull, which implies his power, but also establishes his kinship with a deity that came to China from India with Buddhism; known as Virudhaka in Sanskrit, he is the guardian of the south. South was the most auspicious orientation for palaces as well as tombs.

During the Tang dynasty, ceramic tomb figures were fired either glazed or unglazed, then painted. This example, arguably the finest of its kind, combines both techniques, and the sculpting, glazing, and painted face are all of the highest quality. The degree of detail, such as the folded fingers of his right hand, the realistic posture, and the fluttering cloth under his armor, is virtually unique. The maker’s mastery of the firing process is evident in the handling of the three-colored lead glaze, which was allowed to run on the bull’s flank but remains contained in the separate areas of the guardian’s garment. Traces of gold on the buckles of his armor indicate that the figure was made for a person of very high status.

(Eskenazi Oriental Art, Ltd., London, England); {1} purchased by the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1997 (1997.1). {2}

{1} Its early provenance is identified in IMA Historical Files as having been in a West Coast collection and having come from a famous dealer in London. For information on Eskenazi Oriental Art, Ltd., see the exhibition catalog Eskenazi: Twenty-Five Years, Eskenazi Oriental Art, New York, 12 June-12 July, 1998. See also the interview of Giuseppe Eskenazi in Orientations 26.1, 1995, 105-107.
{2} See "Art of Asia Acquired by North American Museums, 1997-8," Archives of Asian Art, vol. 51, 1998-1999. 105-118 (ill. 14), and "Principales Acquisitions des Musees en 1997," Gazette des Beaux-Arts, March 1998, p. 40 (ill. 165). IMA Temporary Receipt No. 8760.

Object Information

Tang dynasty
creation date
early 700s
earthenware with lead glaze, ink and gold
approximately 42-1/8 x 19 x 9 in.
accession number
credit line
Anonymous Art Fund in memory of Louisa A. Vonnegut Peirce
No Known Rights Holder
Asian Art

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