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664. Temple Guardians

China, Early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) 13/14th century
Height: 118 cm

Provenance: Private Collection, United Kingdom

Two upright guardian figures, fully dressed in armour each with differing grotesque masks adorning the shoulders and stomach area. One guardian has a fierce face and a combative pose, whilst the other has his hands held together in devotion and an expression of introspection. The striking armour is both gilded and brightly painted in vivid reds, greens and blues. They both wear a helmet surmounted by a tassel. They are made of stucco around a wood frame. The eyes are made of black glass creating an intense and dramatic gaze.

These fearsome heavenly generals, are clearly part of the same sculptural group. These figures are often portrayed in multiples, varying from two up to as many as thirty-two, their full armor underlining their role as protectors of the Buddhist faith. They were placed at the entrance of Buddhist temples and shrines, as well as in the temple accompanying figures of Buddha and Bodhisattvas. Shanxi Province was one of the great centres of Buddhism, where of temples and shrines were often decorated with brightly painted stucco sculptures, from the Tang Dynasty onwards.

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