Height: 13 3/4 inches, 35 cm

Pottery figure of an Earth Spirit

China, Northern Wei Dynasty, 386-535

A pottery figure seated on its haunches upon a rectangular base, with long, slender forelegs. The horned head with fierce expression modelled with strong features including protruding eyes, big nose, bushy eyebrows, and a heavy beard with goatee. The hollowed body is set along the spine with three projecting ‘flame-like’ scales, above the thin tail curled around the rear. The surface bears traces of earth and pigment.

This ceramic sculpture depicts a zhenmushou, or a ‘tomb-guardian figure’. Made to inspire terror, this human-faced creature was supposed to prevent the deceased to return to the world of the living. These figures were often accompanied by animal-faced zhenmushou to guard the burial chamber, thus forming a group of four. A similar guardian figure is illustrated in Forms of Pleasure: Chinese Ceramics from Burial to Daily Life.[1] Another one, from approximately the same period, but with a zoomorphic face is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York [2].

Kaikodo Journal, Worlds of Wonder, New York Autumn 2001, XX, pl. 72, p. 228

Oxford Thermoluminecense certificate C299h67

  1. Capelo, F. et al. Forms of Pleasure: Chinese Ceramics from Burial to Daily Life, 2009, pl. 10, pp 46-47 2 Accession number 1979.438.