Bête gardienne du tombeau (zhenmushou 鎮墓獸)

Entre 386 et 534
Terre cuite, Moulage, Polychromie
Statue, Mingqi
Don manuel : Schulmann, Josette

M.C. 9941

In the Eastern Han (25-220) period, among other statuettes placed in the tombs, a warrior, with raised arm holding a spear made of a perishable material, performed a ritual of exorcism to protect the dwelling of the corporeal soul (po) from malefic influences. In the Western Jin period (265-316), his face wore a terrifying expression, perhaps that of a mask donned for the ceremony.
This protective figure, in association with a spiked-back monster, would gradually gain in stature. The tomb guardian (zhenmuyong) would double up as a military and public official. Two fabulous “tomb guardian beasts” (zhenmushou) would accompany him.
This zhenmushou is one of a very widespread type. It has the body of a dog and a human head, and still has the three horns or spikes of the most ancient fabulous creatures. Its relatively large size and remaining polychrome giving the face real presence make it a particularly impressive work. Specialists usually date pieces executed in this manner to the second half of the 5th century.
From the 6th century, two zhenmushou, one with a human head, the other with an animal head, protected the entrances to the funerary chambers. Their usage endured until the late Tang dynasty.

Reference(s) : Art chinois, Musée Cernuschi, acquisitions 1993-2004, Paris Musées/Editions Findakly, 2005, p.82-83.
Gilles Béguin, Le petit peuple des tombes, Paris Musées, 2010, p.43.