Guardian Figure (One of a Pair)

Accession Number

Guardian Figure (One of a Pair)


Artist Nationality
Chinese (culture or style)

Object Creation Date
circa 581-907

Medium & Support
earthenware with polychrome decoration

23 1/2 in x 7 1/2 in x 11 1/2 in (59.69 cm x 19.05 cm x 29.21 cm);25 3/4 in x 8 in x 11 1/4 in (65.41 cm x 20.32 cm x 28.58 cm)

Credit Line
Gift of Jiu-Hwa Lo Upshur (AM '61, PhD '72)

Subject matter
This is a glazed stoneware zhenmushou (镇墓兽, tomb guardian beast) mingqi (明器, bright object) of the Tang Dynasty (618-906). 

Relics from one of the golden eras of Chinese art and culture, these fierce beast figures were always placed in pairs in tombs that often contained numerous ceramic figures of humans, animals, and supernatural creatures. Because of their position near the tomb entrance and their ferocious demeanor, such figures are thought to have been sentinels protecting the deceased from evil spirits.

Developed during the Six Dynasties period (222 - 589), spirit beast pairs always included one figure with a human face and one with a bestial face. Such tomb guardians with canine or feline bodies, seated on their haunches with straight forelegs, also were produced in the Tang dynasty.

Chinese believed that after death, the soul was freed from the body and could roam around the universe without hindrance. Family members did not like the idea of powerful ancestors, particularly those with unsettled grievances, wandering around unrestrained, so guardians were posted at the doorways of tombs to keep spirits from getting out as well as from coming in. Wandering spirits would have to think twice about passing through portals watched over by these fantastic hoofed creatures with menacing bestial or human faces and flaming manes or serrated wings. These composite creatures of clay, known as qitou (earth spirit) in Chinese, must have touched the eighth- century imagination the way sci-fi cyborgs of titanium and modern technology have captured ours in the twenty-first millennium.

Physical Description
This stoneware figure of an anthropomorphic form is sitting on all fours with hooved legs, a human face, a horn on top of its head, and spikes extending down the back. This figure has traces of red and black paint. 

Primary Object Classification

Collection Area

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figures (representations)
hooves (animal components)
horns (animal components)
stoneware (pottery)

3 Related Resources

(Part of 4 Learning Collections)
Human-Animal Metamorphosis
(Part of 6 Learning Collections)

& Author Notes

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