Thursday, June 9, 2011

Guardians of the Tomb

Last night I was lucky enough to see a series of traveling exhibits in the Summer of China series at the Milwaukee Art Museum. I was lucky because these pieces of art are only traveling to three different museums in America and also because this is the first time these pieces have been allowed out of China.

I saw some amazing artifacts last night! I even saw a doorway that was removed from an actual palace. The doorway was part of the exhibit: The Emperor’s Private Paradise: Treasures from the Forbidden City. If you would like to read a short page of information about the show, here's a link to a section of our museum's web site:

I could go on about all the beautiful art, architectural pieces, and furniture I saw last night, although that wouldn't really fit with the theme of this blog. Luckily, there was a part of the show that was a fit: Tomb Guardians. The Tomb Guardians I got to see were from the Tang Dynasty which ran from 618-907 BCE. They were still in great shape! Here are a few of the photos I took of the Tomb Guardians:

Tomb Guardians were often sculptures of fierce beasts, warriors, or supernatural creatures that were placed in pairs in tombs. These were placed near the entrance of a tomb to protect the deceased from evil spirits. As you can see in my pictures, they were ferocious creatures. I'm not sure what kind of creatures the first ones are, but they manage to look both menacing and happy at the same time. Actually, almost all the sculptures I saw last night looked like they were smiling!

I couldn't help comparing the ancient Chinese burial rituals with those of the ancient Egyptians. Both cultures saw the afterlife as a place where the dead could keep their possessions. In both cases, all the things a person needed in life would be left in their tomb. There were also some sculptures of musicians on display last night. These were left in a tomb so a deceased person could bring some music along on his trip into the afterlife!
I tried to find a youtube clip about Tang dynasty burial rituals, but that was pretty much impossible to do. So, instead here's a good one from the Spring and Autumn Period (770-475 BCE) You'll still get to see a few Tomb Guardians that look similar to the ones in my photos.

I also ran across an interesting page on the National Geographic web site. There are a series of photos here showing various Chinese burial customs from different time periods. This is really worth checking out!

National Geographic Chinese Burial Customs

For those who would like to see a modern twist on an older Chinese custom honoring the dead, here's something for you:

This video left me really surprised, amused, and informed! It kind of reminded me of Day of the Dead rituals, like leaving full dinner place settings out for deceased family members. It's a little different to burn something in order to send it to a spirit than to leave it sitting out, but both are a sweet way of remembering someone.

* Update * I was back at the art museum to hear a lecture today (Sunday). While there, I took a few more Tomb Guardian photos! I just had to share these. This one is a vicious little dog. Check out those teeth! 

It kind of looks like he's taking a bite out of that woman in front of him. :) I just love when pictures turn out that way!

P.S. ~ If you haven't entered my giveaway in the previous blog entry, you have until Monday to give it a shot! :)


  1. Interesting article ~ as usual!
    I'd love a couple of the guardian sculptures as ornaments on the front gate of my palace!
    That would keep the undesirables away I bet!

  2. Thanks Goth Clothes! :) Hey, even if some tomb guardians didn't keep the undesirables away, they might at least make people question if they want to bother you!

  3. Those are some awesome pieces at the museum. Did any of them come to life and try to attack you? If they did, hopefully you were able to grab some video.

  4. Umm...I think trying to get some video is the last thing I'd be doing if sculptures came to life. Especially if they tried to attack me! I'd be running the heck out of there.

    I actually thought these looked too friendly to attack anyone. Although, that might just be my unique thought process. :) I always try to find the cute in scary things.

  5. justine thats my kind of thinking!! if ever anything comes to life drop that video cam and run for the hills :).

    The sculptures are really cool gothic but colorful gothic(if that makes sense).I'm actually in china and a couple of friends and I are planning on going to the Summer palace in Beijing when our summer vacation finally starts! Im uber excited i really love china's ancient architecture style its so beautiful and yet has a glint of evil in it :)

  6. Haha, you know it Pixie!

    Yes, colorful Gothic does make sense. I was amazed at how vibrant the glazes remained on the sculptures after all these years!

    You're in China!? That's so cool! So it sounds like you're studying over there? Well, I was going to say you might see a few doorways and thrones missing in the palace, since they're here! Although, you're visiting the Summer Palace and what I saw were pieces of the Winter Palace. So, you shouldn't be missing anything.

    Yes, I love China's ancient architecture too! What I love most are the rooftops. I also really love the Chinoiserie style, since it's sort of an old Euro-Chinese mix in decoration.

    I know what you mean about the glint of evil. You should totally takes some photos from your trip and share them on your blog! If they are wicked enough to fit with your theme anyway. Or just email some photos to me, because I'd love to see some of China! I should be adding an email address to my blog's sidebar today.

  7. This is an awesome post Justine! I wish I could have been there to see such awesome pieces of history. Of course the art scene in Florida is a joke. Anyways, I like how you focused on the sort of darker side of it all. Makes me think of things like Big Trouble in Little China or Mortal Kombat, hehe.

  8. Thank you L! Yes, we were very fortunate to have these pieces in Milwaukee! I felt almost obligated to share this with you guys, because I know that most people are not going to be able to see this show.

    Really? There aren't many good art museums in Florida? Sorry to hear that.

    Yeah, I really could have had a lot to say about the entire show, but I was trying to keep to the dark side so it would fit my blog theme. If I didn't blog about a specific theme, my brain could be all over the place! :) I've never seen Big Trouble in Little China. I just googled it, and it looks good. I can see the connection, since it sounds like there are a lot of supernatural things at work in the movie. I'll have to rent that! Mortal Kombat, that's going back in the day for me. That makes me think of grade school, when some of the boys wore the Mortal Kombat logo on t-shirts, backpacks, etc. I remember that being a big deal!