Guandi, also known as Guangong (the Lord Guan), is reputed to be the military hero, Guanyu of the Three Kingdoms period, who was killed in battle in Jingzhou by the army of Sun Quan, the ruler of the state of Wu. The accounts of his superhuman abilities and incorruptible character are dramatised in the 14th century classical novel, Sanguozhi yanyi, 'Romance of the Three Kingdoms'. The figure of Guandi underwent much transformation in Chinese history from military hero to become deified as a God of War. For a discussion on Guandi, cf. Larson and Kerr, Orientations, 'A Hero Restored: the Conservation of Guan Di', July 1991, pp. 28-34.
The cult of Guandi was actively supported by the Ming Court and his image can be found in Court paintings, for example, the large hanging scroll, 'Guan Yu Captures an Enemy General' by the early 15th century painter, Shang Xi, illustrated by Clunas, Art in China, p. 70, fig. 32. In the Qing period his popularity continued to grow, and he became an important deity for both Daoist and Buddhist devotees.
Several Guandi figures from different periods are in the Chang Foundation, illustrated in the exhibition catalogue, Buddhist Images in Gilt Metal, 84, 85 and 86. However, stylistically the present figure is more closely related to the Vaisravana dated to the 17th/18th century in the same exhibition, no. 72, especially when comparing the treatment of the armour, the garments and the boots. The incised decoration along the hems of the present figure is also very similar to that on the saddlecloth of Vaisravana's lion in the Chang Foundation.
Compare a gilt bronze figure of Guandi also dated to the 17th/18th century, sold in our New York Rooms, 24 March 2004, lot 84.