Pair of T'ang Painted and Gilt Terracotta Warriors - H.736
Origin: China
Circa: 618 AD to 906 AD
Dimensions: 35.75" (90.8cm) high
Collection: Chinese
Style: T'ang Dynasty
Medium: Terracotta

The T’ang Dynasty was an era of unrivalled wealth and luxury. The country was successfully reunified and the borders were expanded, pushing Chinese influence into new lands. Confucianism became a semi-religious instrument of the state; yet Buddhism continued to flourish, spreading into Korea and Japan. The arts reached new levels of sophistication. Poetry and literature flourished under the enlightened rulers. The Silk Road brought fortunes into China. Precious treasures were imported on the backs of camels from far away lands and bartered for Chinese silk, medicinal herbs, and pungent spices. T’ang China was a multicultural empire where foreign merchants from across Central Asia and the Middle East settled in the urban centers, foremost among them the thriving capital of Chang’an (modern X’ian), a bustling cosmopolitan center of over two million inhabitants. Foreign traders lived next to native artisans and both thrived. New ideas and exotic artistic forms followed alongside. The T’ang Dynasty was a cultural renaissance where many of the forms and objects we now associate with China were first created. Moreover, this period represents one of the greatest cultural outpourings in human history.

During the Tang Dynasty, restrictions were placed on the number of objects that could be included in tombs, an amount determined by an individual's social rank. In spite of the limitations, a striking variety of tomb furnishings have been excavated. Entire retinues of ceramic figures - animals, entertainers, musicians, guardians - were buried with the dead. This pair of warriors bares a striking resemblance to the Buddhist warrior deities known as Lokapalas that have their origins as protectors of Buddhist temples but assumed a mortuary role in China. However, this pair of warrior does not stand in the traditional stance of the Lokapala, subduing a demon or triumphing over a recumbent beast. Although this pair is slightly different, we can assume their role in the afterlife would have been the same. These warriors are also striking for their lithe, elongated physiques. Perhaps the most important feature of these guardians is their remarkable state of preservation with an impressive amount of the original polychrome still in tact and, even more impressive, remnants of gilding.

According to one Chinese tradition explaining their origin, the emperor Taizong when ill was threatened by ghosts outside of his room screeching and throwing bricks and tiles. When his general Jin Shubao (Chin Shu-pao) and a fellow officer came to stand guard the activity of the ghosts ceased. The grateful emperor had portraits of the two men hung on either side of his palace gates, and thereafter their images became widespread as door-gods. Originally, they would have brandished weapons in their hands. Perhaps swords, these weapons were likely fabricated in a material such as wood that deteriorated over the centuries. Although this pair of warriors was intended to protect the tomb and ward off any infiltrators, they do not repel us; instead, their compelling history and stunning beauty attracts us to them. - (H.736)