Standing, Bearded Male Figure, Probably A Guardian Warrior, Wearing Helmet With Protective Neck And Ear Flaps, Cape, And Pointed Boots, With His Arms At His Sides
© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

In Bronze Age China, people and animals were sometimes sacrificed and placed in elite tombs to serve and protect the spirit of the deceased. By the end of the third century BCE, philosophical admonitions against such cruel and wasteful funerary practices led to the increasing use of ceramic figurines as substitutes for sacrificial victims. Sculptures from Qin and Han dynasty tombs tended to depict people—warriors, servants, entertainers—with ethnically Chinese features and attire. Greater contact with foreign peoples began with the opening of trade routes to the West during the Han, however, and by the sixth century, ceramic tomb sculptures depicting foreigners and exotic animals became more common. Foreign merchants and grooms appear in tombs, as do camels. These representations are evidence of the cosmopolitan nature of post-Han society, at least among the elite. Guardian figures and mythical beasts, like the standing male and seated creature exhibited here, were intended to safeguard the tomb and were often depicted with fierce features designed to intimidate.

Although he bears no weapons, this figure’s helmet, cape, and boots suggest that he is a warrior. His bulging eyes, high cheekbones, large nose, heavy beard, and non-Chinese dress imply that he is a foreigner of Central Asian origin. The buck-toothed winged feline seated beside him was probably not made as his companion, but was one of a pair of guardian creatures; the original mate would likely have had a similar feline body with wings and spiked spine, but a human face. First appearing in the early sixth century, such “tomb-protecting animals” were meant to ward off evil; they became standard tomb denizens in succeeding periods.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
2003.194
Title
Standing, Bearded Male Figure, Probably a Guardian Warrior, Wearing Helmet with Protective Neck and Ear Flaps, Cape, and Pointed Boots, with His Arms at His Sides
Classification
Sculpture
Work Type
funerary sculpture
Date
550 - 618
Places
Creation Place: East Asia, China
Period
Six Dynasties period, Northern Qi to Sui dynasty
Culture
Chinese
Location
Level 1, Room 1600, Early Chinese Art, Arts of Ancient China from the Bronze Age to the Golden Age
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Physical Descriptions
Medium
Lead-glazed ware: molded, brick-red earthenware with medium-green, lead-fluxed glaze; cold-painted pigments over localized unglazed areas
Dimensions
H. 64 x W. 19 x D. 15.5 cm (25 3/16 x 7 1/2 x 6 1/8 in.)
Provenance
Anthony M. Solomon, New York (by 2003), gift; to Harvard University Art Museums, 2003.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Gift of Anthony M. Solomon
Accession Year
2003
Object Number
2003.194
Division
Asian and Mediterranean Art
Contact
am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu
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Publication History

Virginia Bower, From Court to Caravan: Chinese Tomb Sculptures from the Collection of Anthony M. Solomon, exh. cat., ed. Robert D. Mowry, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, Mass., 2002), p. 104, cat. no. 26

Robert D. Mowry, "Selected Chinese Funerary Sculptures from the Collection Presented to the Harvard University Art Museums by Anthony M. Solomon", Orientations, Orientations Magazine Ltd. (Hong Kong, September 2004), vol. 35, no. 6, pp. 73-75, p. 74, fig. 2; detail on back cover

Exhibition History

32Q: 1600 Early China II, Harvard Art Museums, 11/01/2014

Subjects and Contexts

Collection Highlights

Google Art Project

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu