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Berwald Oriental Art

Pair of Guardian Spirits
Tang Dynasty (618-907)
Earthenware with Pigments and Gilt
Height: 30 ½ inches (77 cm) and 31 inches (78.5 cm)

One of the pair with a humanoid face, seated with front legs extended, the cloven hooves firmly planted on the ground, the head with large distended ears, and fierce eyes beneath deeply furrowed brows and curled tufts of hair around the chin. A fantastic, spiraled, horn sprouts from its head, with smaller horns to either side, a prominent, bifurcated thunder bolt projects from the back of the head. The creature has feathered wings atop each shoulder with a row of flanges behind and a line of serrated scales down its back. The other with leonine features, seated on its haunches, rests on three sharp talons with one claw dynamically raised above the head, mouth agape bearing fangs, with bulging eyes beneath heavy brows from which extend two long curling horns, with rows of flame-like finials emanating from the shoulders, the back of the neck and a sharp ridge of scales running along the spine. The generous size as well as the high quality of the sculpting and decoration indicate that these figures were commissioned by a person of very high rank. These striking mythical creatures were placed on either side of an entrance to ward off evil. Such chimera may be traced back at least to the 3rd c. BCE and were utilized to protect those within the compound. These composite beasts are derived originally from similar figures in central Asia and are comprised of the horns and feet of a deer, the head and body of a lion, a pair of wings and the flame or horn-like projection from the head. The hybrid human figure was introduced a bit later in the Six Dynasties. It is interesting to note that the exaggerated facial features are reminiscent of contemporaneous depictions of Central Asians.

all text, images Berwald Oriental Art

 

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