Guardian of the East (Dongfangchiguotianwang)
Dali kingdom (938–1253)
Partially gilt arsenical bronze; lost-wax casting
H. 6 1/8 in. (15.6 cm); W. 5 1/8 in. (13 cm); D. 3 1/2 in. (8.9 cm)
Purchase, Bequest of Dorothy Graham Bennett, 2001
Guardians, particularly the four associated with the cardinal directions, play an important role in Buddhism and are most frequently shown within larger groupings of divinities. Here, the Guardian Protector of the East sits upon a demon symbolic of the obstacles that must be overcome to attain enlightenment, such as egoism and greed. In most Chinese imagery, the Guardian of the East brandishes a sword, but he is shown with a bow and arrow in the southwest province of Yunnan, which from the tenth to the thirteenth century was under the control of the independent Dali kingdom. The inclusion of arsenic in the copper alloy used to cast this sculpture is also typical of Yunnan.
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