Lokapala

Object nr. 253 China, Tang Dynasty (618-907), early 8th century. Height: 87 cm | Width: 34 cm

Provenance: .
Private Collection, Chicago USA
TL Tested by Oxford Authentication

Condition Report available 

Price on request

This object can be viewed in our gallery.

Additional Information

Lokapala

A pottery tomb guardian known as a Lokapala (Tian Wang or Heavenly King), modelled in the exuberant high-tang style. He is dressed in full body armour, elaborately ornamented with dragon-mouth sleeves and fluttering ribbons; the floral pattern on the cuirass reminiscent of textiles from the same period. On his head he wears an ornate cap with a high-tailed bird. He has exaggerated facial features, with flaring nostrils, bared teeth, big round eyes and beard painted in black pigments. He stands on a plinth, holding down an ox with his feet. The extant bright coloured pigments and gilding, indicate how brightly coloured he would have once been. Inspired by Buddhist iconography, these types of guardians, were placed near the entrance of the burial chamber to protect the deceased and his treasures.

With the entry of Buddhism into China, a new pantheon of Indian deities and imagery emerged. This included images of Lokapāla - the Buddhist guardian gods of the four cardinal directions. When these representations arrived in China, they were easily amalgamated with the very similar Daoist Heavenly Kings (Tian Wang 天王),the Chinese mythological guardians of the four directions. Besides their role of protectors of the Buddhist faith, Lokapāla figures now also found a place as ferocious looking tomb guardians, protecting the occupier. These guardians often appear in pairs and are also grouped with two other protective creatures known as earth spirits (Zhenmushou).

Comparable figures, can be found in museum collections, such as The Asian Art Museum, San Francisco (B62S60) and Museum Fur Östasiatische Kunst, Cologne (F 10,48). A similar figure was excavated near Xian (Shaanxi Province) from the tomb of Wu Shouzhong (748 AD). A pair excavated from the Tomb of Li Zhen, are now in the Zhoaling Museum, Shanxi. This type of figure is also found in Buddhist temple complexes, such as the Dunhuang caves.

Floris van der Ven

Owner