The Cleveland Museum of Art

Collection Online as of January 17, 2017

Tomb Guardian with Human Face, early 700s

glazed earthenware, sancai (three-color) ware, Overall: 88.90 x 41.00 x 50.80 cm (35 x 16 1/8 x 20 inches). Gift of various donors to the department of Asian Art (by exchange) 2000.118.2

Visually stunning, these fierce zhenmoushou (tomb guardians) are covered with the "three color glaze" of sancai ceramics, with amber, green and white as the dominant hues. Here, however, a fourth, and more precious color appears: blue, indicating the princely status of the individual who was to receive protection from this pair.

Like other tomb guardians, these are animal-shaped, are posed crouching over their pedestals, and display dorsal fins on their backs. Also typical of such tomb guardians, they are not identical twins. One sports an animal head, resembling a snarling wolf, and the other a human face, with huge, protruding leaf-like ears. The former also has a pair of tall antlers and is surrounded by spikes suggesting flames. Its body is taut and lean, and its limbs end with sharp talons. Its companion has bulging, glaring eyes and jaws tightened in anger. It also has hoofs instead of claws. A series of feathers fan out from its body, resembling a peacock's display of plumage.

In ceramic art, sancai ware began to appear during the early 600s ad and became widespread over the course of the century. These sculptures were used in a funerary context, most likely within a royal tomb, where they protected the deceased from evil irits. This is the museum's first acquisition of a tomb guardian pair.

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