This figure represents one of the four Celestial Kings of the Directions, sworn to protect Buddhism eternally. They were traditionally placed at the cardinal points of the compass in Buddhist temples, to protect Buddhist deities. They are reputed to be accompanied by large forces of supernatural warriors and placed at four corners of the Buddhist altar.
Guardian figures continued to be of importance in Buddhism, and are found as sculptures or paintings in most Buddhist temples in China today. A set of four plain bronze guardian kings was sold in our Hong Kong Rooms, 26 April 1998, lot 608.
Two Ming gilt-bronze guardian figures wearing traditional armour, in the Fuller Memorial Collection, Seattle Art Museum, are illustrated by Munsterberg, Chinese Buddhist Bronzes, pls.93 and 94, and discussed p.120.