Superb Pair of Sancai Glazed Lokapalas


Glazed earthenware
Tang Dynasty (618 – 907)

Height: 40 inches (101.5 cm) and 40 ½ inches (103 cm)

This large and magnificent pair of Lokapalas each stand contra-posto with one arm raised, the fist clenched where no doubt a spear was once held, their other arm rests on their hip in a manner that gives them a certain swagger and an air of casual power. Each guardian tramples the prone figure of a demon spirit (yaksha), its face with large ears, bulging eyes and stylized hair grimacing in effort as it flails powerlessly.

Both groups are resting on a tall oval rockwork base, one of which is inscribed with the Chinese ‘da’ character that translates as large or big.

The figures wear elaborate leather armour over a longer tunic, tied at the waist that billows out behind them. Their shoulder guards are formed as dragonheads, with upswept flaps at the elbows, the breastplates are held in position by a tightly drawn cord and both wear boots and greaves.

A rich ‘sancai’ (three-colour) glaze has been employed to cover these superbly modeled groups, it has been carefully applied to pick out the features of the guardians armour as well as to add drama to the demons with their green and ochre glazed faces with contrasting hair colour.

The faces of the guardians have been left unglazed; each has deep set bulging eyes and broad flared nostrils. One figure is open mouthed with teeth bared and the other has a firmly closed mouth. The dark bushy eyebrows and moustaches add to the aura of ferocity. Their dramatic headdresses are formed as elaborate phoenix with upturned wings outspread.

Lokapalas primary purpose was to serve as tomb guardians. They found their origins rooted in Buddhist iconography where one finds the Four Heavenly Kings whose mission is to guard the four cardinal compass points. They can be found standing on ox, deer or in these instance demons. Lokapalas are paired with earth spirits, which together guard the compass points.

The bright lead-based sancai (three colour) glaze that covers these figures was a purely Tang Dynasty invention. Earthenware pieces both figures and vessels were dipped, splashed and painted in the bright colours.

The straw colour achieved when the clear lead based glaze used to cover the earthenware bodies was fired had the great benefit of easily absorbing the oxides that act as additional colouring agents. Enriched iron oxide content gave the deep amber, the addition of copper oxide the green.




The application of a white slip to the body helped the glazes adhere and further enhanced their brightness. It also helped control the distinctive ‘crackle glaze’ effect formed when the bodies contract slightly during cooling.

The figures here wear what is known as ‘Mountain Pattern Armour’. It appears during the Tang Dynasty and is made from a multitude of pieces of steel that are shaped to resemble the word shan (mountain): mountains being regarded as a critical source of spiritual power. Such costly armour was available only to a very high ranking few and to wear it would have been considered an honor.

Similar examples:

A pair of sancai glazed Lokapalas can be found in the British Museum and are illustrated in The British Museum Book of Chinese Art, edited by Jessica Rawson, page 145 fig. 95, published for The Trustees of the British Museum by British Museum Press 1992.

Another pair of sancai glazed Lokapalas is illustrated in Mayuyama Seventy Years Vol. 1. , plate 209. Published Mayuyama & Co., Ltd., Tokyo, 1976.

A single sancai glazed Lokapala with a similar phoenix headdress is in the Royal Ontario Museum and is illustrated in Homage to Heaven and Earth, Chinese Treasures of the Royal Ontario Museum. fig 81. page 141, published by the University of Toronto Press 1992.

高 40 英寸(101.5 公分)and 40 ½ 英寸(103 公分)