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HOME : Chinese Art : Tang Lokapalas : T'ang Sculpture of a Lokapala
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T'ang Sculpture of a Lokapala - H.013
Origin: China
Circa: 618 AD to 907 AD

Collection: Chinese
Medium: Terracotta

Location: United States
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This figure is positioned with one arm raised fist clenched as if once grasping a weapon and the other arm resting on the hip.  One leg is fixed while the other is raised atop the head of an ox that serves as the base.  The figure is dressed in layers of robes beneath clad armor cinched by a wide belt.  The loose end of his robe appear to flow in the wind. Tall boots with a lapel reach the knee.  His long slender, well-proportioned body distinguishes this figure from other depictions of Deva Kings who are often portrayed as stout and burly. An iconographical feature of the Deva King is the topknot, which in this figure, is shown as part of his elaborate hairdo.

The “Deva King” is an image of fear and respect.  Borne out of a synthesis of the indigenous Chinese “Heavenly Kings,” legendary guardians of the four directions, and the Buddhist “Guardian Kings,” lopakalas, these supernatural beings were held in high esteem among T'ang burial objects for their protective role. They were presented as supernatural beings, with facial features and body proportions unlike those of ordinary human.  Their ferocious expressions and menacing gestures are borrowed from their Buddhist counterparts, and their hair is often depicted pulled up into a distinctive knot in the fashion of Buddhist deities. Up to 1.5 meters tall, they trample on evil in the form of a small demon, or they stand on an ox, symbolizing that the king is the guardian of the south.

T'ang figurines reached their peak in the first half of the eighth century, just before the An Lushan Rebellion which resulted in the weakening of the dynasty and later persecution of Buddhism.  They are considered to be the finest examples of Chinese burial objects.  The important role assigned to these models in T'ang tomb arrangements and their significance as status symbols and powerful guardians protecting the dead meant that these clay figures became luxury objects.  Created during one of the greatest periods in Chinese history, they reflect the artistic vitality of the time, the re-ordering of social and political life, and give a unique perspective into the luxurious and sophisticated world of contemporary upper class life.
- (H.013)


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