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
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.