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369 Heavenly King
China, Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD)
This impressive large figure of Tianwang (Heavenly King), is dressed in full multi-layered body armour, with dragon mouth sleeves. It is highly embellished with beautiful flowers in natural pigments and gold leaf. The hands are opened as if engaged in some form of martial art. He stands on two small squirming demons, showing his ability to control evil spirits. He sports a fabulous headdress in the shape of a phoenix.
Height: 180 cm / 5'11 inch
TL-tested by Oxford Authentification Ltd, UK
The scowling features with large, bulging eyes, flared nostrils and exotic moustache, appear to belong to a foreigner, possibly a Persian mercenary. This would have been a menacing sight for the Chinese, certainly frightening enough to ward off evil spirits. Strict Tang sumptuary laws, would have meant that this unusually large figure could only have been intended for the tomb-entrance of an aristocrat or royal prince.
Comparable figures, can be found in museum collections, such as The Asian Art Museum (San Francisco). A pair excavated from the Tomb of Li Zhen, are now in the Zhoaling Museum, Shanxi. This type of figure is also found in temple complexes, such as the Dunhuang cave temples.