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Armored Guardian

A work made of buff earthenware with polychromy and gilding.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A work made of buff earthenware with polychromy and gilding.


Tang dynasty (618–907), late 7th/early 8th century



About this artwork

Ceramic figures made for burial in the tombs of princes and officials vividly evoke aspects of the elite life of China’s expansive and multicultural Tang dynasty (618-907). This armored guardian of haughty, impenetrable expression stands on a rocky plinth and was probably stationed close to the burial chamber to repel potential evil. One hand turns down in a clenched fist and the other turns upward with an outstretched finger, suggesting that both hands once brandished a weapon, now lost. His multilayered parade armor combines a helmet with upturned earflaps; neck and shoulder guards; scalloped breast and backplates secured by knotted ropes over a tunic with pleated hem; flared elbow cuffs over long, tight sleeves; and protective leggings under a sweeping skirt. The elements of this elaborate uniform were meticulously modeled in clay before firing and richly embellished with colors and gold pigment afterward.
Because these so-called “cold pigments” are more vulnerable to deterioration than fired glazes, only traces of the most detailed patterns survive. These combine curled tendrils and scalloped floral scrolls on the armor, giving elegantly decorative flourishes to the armor of this impassive figure.
Unlike most Tang figures that were formed in molds, this guardian appears to have been primarily hand-modeled, probably from coils of clay. It has survived remarkably intact; examination by museum conservators revealed only minimal restoration.


On View, Gallery 105


Arts of Asia


Armored Guardian


China (Object made in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

675 CE–725 CE


Buff earthenware with polychromy and gilding


H.: 96.5 cm (38 in.)

Credit Line

Gift of Russell Tyson

Reference Number


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