Tang dynasty (618-907) China
Earth spirit guardian figure [tianlu] 8th century Place made: China
Materials & Technique: sculptures, earthenware, earthenware with three colour glaze [sancai]
Dimensions: 129.5 h x 45.0 w x 34.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1998
Accession No: NGA 98.79.2
  • Drawn from images of real and mythical animals and birds, this huge protective earth spirit, one of a pair, originally stood guard at the entrance to the tomb of a Chinese ruler. The figure displays an amalgam of ferocious and threatening features. Known as tianlu, the man-lion has cloven hooves and displays enormous flared ears and a single spiralling horn. The unglazed head of this spirit would probably once have been painted. It appears beside a claw-footed creature, pixie, with the glazed head of a lion,curving antlers and a flame-like mane.

    Both bearded creatures have unusually fine incising of feathers on their outstretched wings. Coated in the brilliant amber, green and straw sancaiglaze perfected by the Tang potters, the guardian figures crouch expectantly on tall rocky outcrops.

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2011
    From: Asian gallery extended display label