© Cleared / image missing
Tang dynasty (618-907) China
Pixie and tianlu, earth spirit guardian figures 618-907 Place made: China
Materials & Technique: sculptures, earthenware, earthenware; sancai glaze, pigment painting
Dimensions: 121.9 h x 47.0 w x 33.0 d cm 129.5 h x 45.0 w x 34.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1998
Accession No: NGA 98.79.1-2

A composite of the fierce and threatening characteristics of various real and mythical animals and birds, this huge pair of protective earth spirits originally stood guard at the entrance to the tomb of a Chinese ruler. Elaborate funerals were a means of appeasing ancestral spirits, and ceramic grave goods were an integral part of this tradition, meant to ensure continued prosperity and protection of the deceased in the afterlife. The use of ceramics for funerals reached its height during the Tang dynasty, with vast numbers of technically accomplished pottery and glazed ceramic figures found in tombs, especially those of the aristocracy.

The figures in this pair display different physical features. One has cloven hooves, the other claws. The glazed head of the lion-shaped Pixie sprouts curving antlers and a flame-like mane, while the man-lion Tianlu figure exhibits huge flared ears and a single spiralling horn. The unglazed head of this spirit would probably once have been painted. Both creatures are bearded, and have particularly delicate incised feathers on their outstretched wings. Coated in the brilliant amber, green and straw three-colour (sancai) glaze perfected by the Tang potters, these exceptionally large and animated guardian figures crouch expectantly on tall rocky outcrops.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Ron Radford (ed), Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2008

A composite of the fierce and threatening characteristics of various real and mythical animals and birds, this pair of protective earth spirits originally stood guard at the entrance to the tomb of a Chinese ruler. Elaborate funerals were a means of appeasing ancestral spirits, and ceramic grave goods were an integral part of the tradition intended to ensure the continued prosperity and protection of the deceased in the afterlife. The use of ceramics for funerals reached its height during the Tang dynasty, with vast numbers of technically accomplished ceramic figures found in tombs, especially those of the aristocracy.

The figures in this pair each display different physical features. One has cloven hooves, the other claws. The glazed head of the lion-shaped Pixie sprouts curving antlers and a flame-like mane, while the man-lion Tianlu figure exhibits huge flared ears and a single spiralling horn. The unglazed head of this spirit would probably once have been painted. Both creatures are bearded, and have particularly delicate incised feathers on their outstretched wings. Coated in the brilliant amber, green and straw three-colour (sancai) glaze perfected by the Tang potters, these exceptionally large and animated guardian figures crouch expectantly on tall rocky outcrops.


Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2014
From: Collection highlights: National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2014