T’ang Sancai-Glazed Celestial King - H.683
Origin: China
Circa: 618 AD to 906 AD
Dimensions: 34.75" (88.3cm) high
Collection: Chinese
Style: T'ang Dynasty
Medium: Glazed Terracotta


Known as Lokapala and as the Devaraja, or Celestial King, this style of guardian figures are a more general type of Chinese art known as mingqi. Mingqi were any of a variety of objects specifically created for interment in the tombs of elite individuals in order to provide for the afterlife. These guardians were most likely interred in order to ward off potential tomb robbers or perhaps evil spirits in the next world that might try to infiltrate the tomb. Traditionally, this fierce, armored guardian stands, as represented here, upon a recumbent ox, with one foot resting on the head and another on the body, symbolic of the Celestial King’s authority. Originally, this type of figure had its origins in Buddhist philosophy; however, over the ages, as society became more secularized, they began to fulfill the more generic role of tomb guardians. As society evolved, these figures lost their religious significance and became symbolic of the military might that protected the wealth of the T’ang from the nomadic barbarian invaders of the North. Clearly, these are imposing figures that were supposed to ward away the forces of evil and protect the deceased throughout eternity. Although these works were never meant to be seen by the living, they amaze us with their refined artistry and sophisticated beauty. Especially pleasing is the delicate modeling of the spectacular bird headdress that crowns his head. With spread wings and undulating neck, this gorgeous headdress is a fine example of the masterful artistry of T’ang sculptors. While this Celestial King is supposed to frighten us with his stern glare and aggressive posture, originally he would have brandished a wooden spear or sword that has vanished over the ages, we are instead drawn to his overwhelming beauty and history. - (H.683)




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