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Chinese Tomb Guardian Figures on View at Princeton University Art Museum

Exhibition Dates: February 9 through August 31, 2002

PRINCETON --A recently acquired pair of Chinese tomb guardian figures from the Tang dynasty (618 - 907) is the focus of a small exhibition, "Guardians of the Tomb: Spirit Beasts of Tang Dynasty China," on view at the Princeton University Art Museum from February 9 through August 31, 2002.

"Relics from one of the golden eras of Chinese art and culture, these fierce beast figures were always placed in pairs in tombs that often contained numerous ceramic figures of humans, animals, and supernatural creatures. Because of their position near the tomb entrance and their ferocious demeanor, such figures are thought to have been sentinels protecting the deceased from evil spirits," notes Cary Y. Liu, associate curator of Asian art.

Developed during the Six Dynasties period (222 - 589), spirit beast pairs always included one figure with a human face and one with a bestial face. Such tomb guardians with canine or feline bodies, seated on their haunches with straight forelegs, also were produced in the Tang dynasty, when ceramic examples commonly were fired with colorful lead-silicate glazes known as sancai or "three-color" glaze.

In contrast, the guardian figures on exhibition have more human bodies, resembling the standing, supernatural warrior tomb figures that are often shown subduing creatures underfoot. Decorated with paint, gold, and silver, these spirit beasts represent a moment when the earlier animal-bodied and later human-bodied figural traditions came together in the mid-eighth century. It is important to note that these particular guardian types have only painted surface decoration, without the use of colorful glazes. They postdate the period of the great sancai funerary tomb sculpture found in imperial tombs from the earlier part of the eighth century.

Related Event

Gallery Talk: "Guardians of the Tomb: Spirit Beasts in Tang Dynasty China"
Yang Lu, assistant professor, Department of East Asian Studies, Princeton University
12:30 p.m. on Friday, March 8, and 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, March 10, 2002

The art museum is open to the public without charge. Free highlights tours of the collection are given every Saturday at 2:00 p.m. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and on Sunday from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. It is closed on Monday and major holidays. The Museum Shop closes at 5:00 p.m. The museum is located in the middle of the Princeton University campus. Picasso's large sculpture Head of a Woman stands in front. For further information, please call (609) 258-3788.