Tianwang, also known as lokapalas, the Buddhist Guardians of the Four Directions, were part of the core group of figures placed at the entrance to the main burial chamber, or just inside. These figures with their scowling, forbidding features and defiant stance depicted in the guise of foreign soldiers wearing full armor were meant to subdue evil forces and are often modeled standing atop a defeated demon. As with one of the present figures, the demons are sometimes shown biting the foot of the triumphant lokapala. See the pair illustrated by Y. Sugimura, Chinese Sculpture, Bronzes, and Jades in Japanese Collections, Japan, 1966, p. 46; one of a pair in the Avery Brundage collection, illustrated by d'Argenc et al, Chinese, Korean and Japanese Sculpture, Japan, 1974, pl. 99; and another included in the exhibition, Tang, Eskenazi, London, 9 June - 3 July 1987, no. 40.
Guardian figures of this type, but of larger size and of painted stucco, are also seen flanking the opening of niches in the Dunhuang Caves. Here, also, they are dressed as fierce foreign soldiers and shown trampling defeated demons beneath their feet. See Zhongguo Meishu Quanji; Diaosu Bian; Dunhuang Caisu (The Great Treasury of chinese Fine Arts; Sculpture; The Painted Sculpture of Dunhuang), vol. 7, Shanghai, 1989, pp. 134-135 and 150-151. Still rarer, are the examples in stone, such as the figure of a lokapala trampling a demon, lot 19 in this sale, which is from Longmen.
The result of Oxford Authentication Ltd. thermoluminescence test no. C199u41 is consistent with the dating of this lot.