Sunday, March 1, 2015

Dating a Statue of the Buddha

A Standing Buddha Statue

Standing Buddha.
China, Northern Qi to Sui Dynasty, 570 - 600 A.D.
Limestone, Height: 43 inches.

This statue of a Buddha is just under life sized, 43 inches in total, with both arms broken off where the hands would have projected.  The quality of the sculpture is very high, the forms are sensuous and the head is sensitively carved and beautiful.  While the form of the Buddha is standard and familiar, the dating of this piece is actually not so straightforward. I will analyze the piece and show parallels to attempt to place it in time.

The form of the Buddha with the robes having low relief folds close to the body forming a column, and the elegant restraint of the overall figure, generally date the sculpture to the late 6th Century.  However, certain elements of the face, ushnisha, and the folds of the robe are not typical of the Northern Qi, 550 - 577 A.D., but may indicate a date just after, making this a transitional style sculpture.  I will take each element separately to attempt to place it more exactly.

One dates a sculpture from the head, so we will start there.  

The cranial lump which is a mark of the Buddha’s transcendent wisdom, the ushnisha , here is defined and distinct, although subtly so. During the Northern Qi Dynasty, the ushnisha is melded into the overall form of the head to create more of a cone head, but here, it is clearly defined, even if only just so.

The long lobes of the ears are a marker of the Buddha, found in all periods of Buddhist sculpture.

The face is rounded, and distinctly Chinese looking with its full cheeks, small full mouth and small nose.  The features are highly stylized, the eyes are swooping curves, under arched brows. The chin is small, and slightly double chinned, you can barely make out the line defining it underneath it. The neck is smooth and columnar, with no fat rings, as are found more commonly after the Northern Qi. The face, with its rounded form is moving towards the fullness developed in the Tang Dynasty, but the clarity and elegance of it is still Northern Qi. 

Based on the slightly distinct but still subtle ushnisha, the fullness and Chinese appearance of the face, and smooth neck, I feel we have a late Northern Qi sculpture here, whose style anticipates the later developments in Chinese sculpture, almost a transitional piece.

Another stylistic feature that helps to place this statue in time is the treatment of the robe, which has low relief crisp folds and is close to the body.  On each upper arm below the shoulder are a pair of folds which flow down the upper arms in an S shaped, almost flame like, curving line.  Symmetrically mirroring each other, they frame the central torso.  This feature is found in two marble Buddha statues that I have found, which are dated to the Sui Dynasty, 581-618 A.D., see below.

Similarly the treatment of the bottom hems of the robes is helpful in dating. While the lower left side is broken off, enough survives of the right side to see that the robe ended in a series of scrolling curves for the ends of the vertical pleats of the robe, echoing the scrolling hem of the outer robe above.  On the left side the outer robe bottom has a central pleat whose hem forms a spade shape, flanked by curves on either side.  The under robe, whose hem is lower is broken off on that side, but it no doubt mirrored the other side, rather than followed the upper robes folds. This is partly due to the asymmetrical treatment of the folds crossing the body from left to right in curving descending arches.  

Above is an image of a Buddha statue in the Toronto, Royal Ontario Museum, dated to 577 A.D., which would be the end of the Northern Qi, to early Northern Zhou Dynasties.  You can see the folds on each upper arm which come from a vertical, before curving down, mirroring each other. The scrolling wave pattern of the lower under robe lower hem relates to ours, as well. The overall columnar form created by the robes close to the body, with the crisp shallow folds is quite similar to our statue.  However the head is quite different, they eyes in particular do not have the curving upward flame like curving form as in our sculpture. 

This colossal statue is in the British Museum, Chinese, and which has an inscription dating it to 585 A.D., early Sui Dynasty.  It is carved of marble, and stands 5.78 meters tall, nearly 19 feet high. It is a truly magnificent statue, unfortunately displayed in a stairwell at the British Museum, so you cannot get a good view of it.

The overall columnar form of the statue with its crisp low relief folds falling across the body, and the mirroring folds along the upper arms, relate to our statue.  The scrolling wave pattern of the lower hems of the upper robe and larger waves of the under, lower robe, are similar but more stylized than in our sculpture. The head of the BM statue is quite different, more hieratic and remote, than the warmer curves and expression on our statue.  This helps to put our statue within the Northern Qi style, perhaps late, or transitional, just at the end of that period. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Yet another Poniatowski gem discovered!

I just recently purchased a gem set in a gold frame hung from chains to be used as a pendant, that is one of the Poniatowski Gems.  The dealer knew what it was, but not which one, and I have been able to find it in the Beazley Archives, where it's current whereabouts are marked as unknown. No longer, it can re-emerge into the view of the wider world.

 The gem, which measures 30mm long by 22mm wide, is carnelian agate, and has a scene of a winged man seated in a rocky setting, handing a bag to a cloaked man with a rounded cap. Behind this man is the prow of a ship with its swan head finial.  Below the ground line is a long inscription in Greek letters.  The surface of the gem is slightly worn and the carving is of very high quality, the composition has strong diagonals, and the size of the gem is large as engraved gems go. All these factors mark it as being from the Poniatowski collection, but I had no specific information as to the subject or which gem it was.

After some study and the fortuitous visit of a friend, the subject was identified as being Ulysses, the original Greek name being Odysseus, receiving the winds from Aeolus, as told in the Odyssey by Homer.  With the subject known, I was able to narrow down my search on the Beazley Archives website and found the gem, illustrated only with its impression from when it was in possession of John Tyrrell, Esq., in 1841, who had purchase it along with 1,200 other gems from the Poniatowski collection from Chrisities in London after the princes death.  Tyrrell believed the gems to be ancient, even though by this time a number of scholars doubted them, and he had casts made of the gems, and published them along with catalogs of his collection and distributed them to scholars around the world. This catalog and the plaster impressions taken from the gems, have allowed for the re-discovery of many of the Poniatowski gems.  This particular one is number T1017, the T being for Tyrrell.

Like all the gems, or at least most, in the Poniatowski Collection this gem is very high quality, beautiful, and its subject very interesting.  The Poniatowski Collection represents one of the greatest collections of gem engraving of its time ever assembled.  This gem was designed by Calandrelli, the drawing is in the Antikensammlung Berlin, and now the gem is with me.

Photo of the impression from when it belonged to John Tyrrell. (image courtesy Beazley Archives)

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Crowned Bodhisattva Head and its type.

I recently acquired the exceptional Chinese Northern Qi head of a Crowned Bodhisattva, seen in the images below.  It is large, just over life sized, intact as far as the head itself goes, with only a bit of the top of the crown missing and the side ribbons. In addition to being relatively intact the surfaces are very well preserved with extensive remains of the gold leaf preserved along with polychromy.  The lips preserve their original carmine red, and bits of color remain on the crown.  It is a magnificent head, really majestic.  However the reason the head is compelling to me is that it is of a type known from other versions, which is a rarity in Chinese Buddhist sculptures of this time.  While all are similar, no two are the same in their details, except for this particular type.

Head of a Bodhisattva, Limestone, Height: 15 inches

Head of a Bodhisattva wearing a crown.
China, Northern Qi Dynasty, 550 - 577 A.D.

Side view of Head of a Bodhisattva, Limestone, Height: 15 inches.
In my studies of Chinese Buddhist sculpture, one is confronted repeatedly with this (see below) spectacular Bodhisattva wearing a crown, with a small Buddha centrally placed.  This indicates it is Kuanyin, the Bodhisattva of compassion.  Singularly superb in its carving, conception and execution, it stands apart from the group of extraordinary sculptures discovered in Qingzhou in 1996, and subsequently made famous by a traveling exhibition and catalogue, "The Return of the Buddha", in 2002.  It was featured in one of the first publications of the find in 2001 on the cover of the magazine, Arts of Asia, Volume 31, number 1. 

Bodhisattva found in the Qingzhou horde, Limestone, Height: 136cm.
 Standing Bodhisattva
China, Northern Qi Dynasty, 550 - 577 A.D.

Detail showing the head of the Qingzhou Bodhisattva

The beautiful Bodhisattva above (photos taken from the Asian Newspapers online article is one of the most famous of the sculptures found in the horde.  And justly so as you can see in the photos above.  However, as remarkable as it is in itself, evidently either it, or a lost original, inspired copies to be made of it, something I have not seen before in Chinese Buddhist sculpture.  The first time I encountered one, it was a smaller version, that duplicates the details of the jewelry, robes and crown exactly, but the face is quite different. (see below)

Bodhisattva, Limestone, Height: 25 inches.
Standing Bodhisattva
China, Northern Qi Dynasty 550 - 577 A.D.

Head of the Bodhisattva above.
Another view of the head of the Bodhisattva
As you can see above, the smaller version of the Bodhisattva type copies exactly, as far as I can tell, the jewelry, robes and crown of the Qingzhou sculpture.  I bought the smaller one without realizing just how close it was to it, but recognizing that it belonged to that type of adorned Bodhisattva.  I was startled when I was studying photos of the Qingzhou sculpture to see just how closely the one I had followed it.  And yet the faces are quite different, indicating that they are not by the same sculptor, and perhaps even separated in time.  The question is, was the Qingzhou Bodhisattva famous and admired in its own time, or was there yet another example that it is another copy of.  That is something we may never know. 

The head I just acquired indicates that there was yet at least one more version, the one the head came from, which would have been just over life sized, and a very impressive sculpture.  Interestingly, the crown, which is almost identical to the Qingzhou example, is not exactly so.  On either side of the central seated small Buddha on the Qingzhou sculpture, is a stylized lotus leaf seen from the side, however in the newly acquired head, the Buddha is framed by a jewel, with a spray of pearls on either side, the rest of the crown almost exactly parallels the Qingzhou type.  The face is much more related to the Qingzhou type, a bit bigger and less attenuated, unlike the small version where it is totally different.  The lips in particular has almost the same cupid bow upper lip that the Qingzhou one does.  In addition the expressions are very similar, very removed and distant in deep meditation.  The smaller one just has a different feel to its face, even though it too is in deep meditation.

The whole field of early Chinese Buddhist sculpture is still only beginning to be processed by scholars, since before the Qingzhou horde, very few examples survived, now many examples have come to light, reached the market, but are still relatively unknown to them.  I wonder how many other "types" we will find, where there are multiple examples so similar to each other as the three above. 

A little bit about Bodhisattvas.  The Buddha attained enlightenment and nirvana, leaving the earthly realm merging into the universal essence.  In early Chinese Buddhist sculpture, the Buddha is distinguished by the lack or jewelry and adornment, in the simple robes of a monk.  It is his pure presence that demands your attention, while Bodhisattvas are richly clothed and adorned often with heavy extravagant jewelry.  The Qingzhou example is a particulary richly decorated one.  A Bodhisattva is a being who has attained enlightenment, but has chosen not to go to Nirvana, but to stay behind to help other sentient beings achieve enlightenment.  One story about Kuanyin is that on the brink of Nirvana, he heard the distressed voices of all creation, and in compassion, turned around to stay behind to help other beings on the road to spiritual perfection. Perhaps as recompense for not going to Nirvana, Bodhisattvas are depicted adorned in kingly jewelry and robes.  The richness of their garb may also symbolize their spiritual wealth, which is limitless.  Almost all Bodhisattvas are crowned, but the Qingzhou type has a distinctive crown, so I am referring to them as a crowned Bodhisattva.  The central small seated Buddha in the crown is an attribute of Kuanyin, so it may well be the type is meant to depict him.  In Indian sculpture, which was the source for Buddhism, Bodhisattvas are richly adorned, with jewelry.  But the Chinese examples are often far more richly adorned then the Indian ones.  The type above is one of the most beautiful in early Chinese Buddhist sculpture, I'm lucky to have found this beautiful head of one.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Another Poniatowski gem rediscovered

It has been a while since I last posted to my blog.  So here I will catch up with a few new posts, on more Poniatowski gems that I have purchased, starting with this beauty, which was lost, and now is found.
Engraved Carnelian in gold swivel setting.
Above is the gem, and engraved carnelian agate, here shown with the light going through it, allowing one to see the masterful engraving, an three dimensional image done in reverse, intaglio.  What we see is a young serious woman, hair drawn back into a simple bun, indication of robes at the bottom of her neck, and a large inscription along the left side, reading "POLLA ARGENTARIA".

Here you see the gem in its setting, in reflected light.

Above is the gem seen in its setting, with the light reflecting off the surface.  What isn't evident from this image is that the surface shows some minor wear with some small scratches.  This becomes important in its identification.

The research of this gem took several stages.  Its first rate quality indicated to me that I may well find it somewhere, and be able to identify its engraver even.  First I went to Lippold's Gemmen und Kameend des Altertums et der Neuzeit, published in 1922.  One reason it is such a great resource is to be found it its title, Gems and Cameos from Antiquity to the New Age, roughly translated, the literal German is more poetic, referring to antiquity as the High Period, i.e., superior, with which I would agree.  Lippold illustrates hundreds of the more admired gems both from the ancient periods to modern gems, as collectors in the 19th Century collected and were interested in the best of both times.  In Lippold I found the nearly identical female bust, which is signed by L. (Luigi) Pichler, one of the greatest gem engravers from the late 18th into the early 19th Century.

From Lippold, the Pichler gem.
The images on these two gems are nearly identical, with minor differences in the drapery at the bottom of the neck and the profile, but seem to be by the same hand they are so close.

The next phase of my research was to google the name engraved on the gem, Polla Argentaria, who turns out was the wife of Lucan, the well known poet who lived during the Julio Claudian period and had the patronage of Nero, and as typical in this period, lost favor, was discovered to have subsequently plotted against the emperor and was force to commit suicide, which he did by opening a vein and as he bled to death, he recited poetry.  He was only 25, and had accomplished a lot in his short life.  Nothing is known about Polla Argentaria but that she was his wife, then widow.  No ancient depictions of her exist, or are known.

Then of course my mind wandered to the Poniatowski gems, as there are many gems of famous Romans, which because there are no ancient representations of subjects, are identified, sometimes with cryptic initials, by rather large inscriptions. The inscriptions on the known and illustrated portrait gems in the Poniatowski collection matched the style of the inscription on mine.  Looking up Polla Argentaria in the Beazley Archives Poniatowski gem section, I found that indeed, there was a gem depicting her in the collection, but it had no impression, no illustration of what it looked like.  But, given the very quality of this gem, the slightly roughed up surface, matching the other gems in the collection, the style of the inscription and that it depicts an obscure but literary figure in Roman history, I thought, you know what, this may the be the lost gem cataloged.  I sent images to Clauda Wagner, who is managing the Beazley Archives database and is perhaps the person who knows the most about the Poniatowski collection, and she confirmed that yes, it is the Poniatowski gem on the website, which until I made the connection, had been lost to scholarship. 

This gem is the 5th re-discovery I've made of gems listed as lost on the Beazley Archives, 2 from the Marlborough collection and now 3 Poniatowski gems.  I intend to keep looking, and hopefully I will make more rescues of lost gems from these great collections.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Another rediscovered Paniatowski Gem

Amethyst Intaglio set in its Original gold and black enamel setting.
Dear Reader, it has been awhile but my recent purchase of this magnificent intaglio has inspired me post.  It is a large convex amethyst gem engraved with a scene of of Apollo and a youth, with a dying stag under a tree.  It is an illustration of the Greco-Roman myth best told by Ovid in his wonderful "Metamorphosis", which I will relate below. 
Gem seen with light shining through it.
Above in the backlit image, you can see the carving clearly.

The gem is from the notorious Poniatowski collection, this is Tyrrell 513, illustrated on the Beazley Archives by the plaster impression Tyrrell had made of it and all the Poniatowski gems he purchased. Here is the link:

The Poniatowski gems have become of great interest to me; they are beautiful examples of the gem engravers art, their subjects are wonderful, and their history is so fascinating.  It is rare that I get a chance to have objects that one knows for whom they were created, and their provenance so well.  For example this gem was published by the Prince, Catalogue des Pierres Gravees Antiques de S.A. le Prince Stanislas Poniatowski, Florence 1830-1833, no IV 62.  It was also published by its next owner, John Tyrrell, Explanatory catalogue of the proof-impressions of the antique gems possessed by the late Prince Poniatowski and now in the possession of John Tyrrell Esq., London 1841, no 513.
The full provenance goes: The collection of Prince Poniatowski, offered at auction at Christie's London, April 20 - May 21, 1839, lot 2344, withdrawn from the sale, purchased by John Tyrrell (35 Craven Street - London).  New York Art Market 2012 when it was purchased by me, its whereabouts between Tyrrell's ownership and mine is at this time, unknown. (Thanks go to Hadrien Rambach for providing me with the full provenance as it is known.)

The subject of the gem is the story of Apollo and Cyparissus, is related by Ovid as part of his retelling of the myth of Orpheus, the lead in to the story is the scene where Orpheus rests on the top of a hill, which had no trees and no shade, and as he played on his lyre and sang the shady trees moved to the spot to shelter him from the sun.  Ovid lists the different types of trees and their particular attributes and last came the Cypress, and then the telling of this story:

"With the rest of the throng came the cypress, shaped like the cones that mark the turning point on the race-course; though now a tree, it was once a boy, dearly loved by the god who strings both lyre and bow.
 This is the story. There was once a magnificent stag, sacred to the nymphs who live in the fields of Carthaea, whose branching antlers cast deep shade over its head. These antlers gleamed with gold and a necklace of precious stones, encircling the animal's silky neck, hung down over its shoulders. On its forehead swayed a silver charm, kept in place by fine leather straps, which it had worn since it was born, and pearls glistened in either ear, close by its hollow temples. This stag was quite without fear and, its natural timidity forgotten, used to visit people's houses and hold out its neck, even to strangers, to be stroked. But the person who was most attached to it was Cyparissus, the handsomest of the Cean boys. He used to lead it to fresh grazing, or to the waters of some crystal spring, and wove wreaths of different kinds of flowers to hang upon its horns. Sometimes he sat on its back, like a horseman on his horse, and gleefully guided the animal's soft mouth this way and that, by means of scarlet reins.
One summer day, at noon, when the curving arms of the shore-loving Crab were being scorched by the heat of the sun, the stag was tired, and lay down to rest on the grassy ground, finding coolness in the shade of the trees. There Cyparissus unwittingly pierced it with his keen javelin. When he saw his friend cruelly wounded and dying, the boy resolved to die himself. Phoebus (Apollo) said all he could to comfort him, chiding him and telling him that his grief should be moderate, in proportion to its cause. Still the boy groaned and begged, as a last gift from the gods, that he should be allowed to go on mourning forever. Now, as his blood drained away, by reason of his endless weeping, his limbs began to change to a greenish hue, and the hair which lately curled over his snowy brow bristled and stiffened, pointing upwards in a greaceful crest towards the starry sky. Sadly the god Apollo sighed; "I shall mourn for you," he said, "while you yourself will mourn for others, and be the constant companion of those in distress."

 Beautifully told by Ovid, this story comes to life in this gem, and is a scene not depicted in any ancient work of art, which is typical of the Poniatowski gems.  Most of the gems illustrate, in original ways that copy no other works of art, obscure stories from the myths, mostly from Ovid, which given the poetic way the story is related above is understandable, that have no parallels in ancient or even modern art of their time.  As such the Poniatowski gems are surprisingly original for a body of "fakes".  One wonders if the Prince had not created the ruse of passing them off as ancient, whether they might have had more influence on the art of their time, given their originality.
The story of the Prince and his collection I have related before:

Just to summarize, Prince Paniatowski was of the Polish royal family and chose to live in Rome in the last part of the 18th into the early 19th Century, and had a large collection of what he said were ancient gems, and those few who were permitted to see it, declared it the greatest collection of gems anyone had seen.  He published two catalogues of the gems, with elaborate descriptions, but no illustrations during his lifetime, which added to the fame of his collection.  It was sold after his death in 1839 at Christie's in London, and by then, doubts about the antiquity of the gems began to surface, and the sale was not a success.  But a John Tyrrell purchased 1600 of the gems, believing them to be ancient, and created plaster impressions of them which he distributed to document and promote them.  This particular gem is one of them, and until this time, it has been on the Oxford University online Beazley archives, as whereabouts unknown, illustrated only by the plaster cast created by Tyrrell.  Tyrrell believed in the gems antiquity until the end, summing up his thoughts thusly, that it was "not probable that a nobleman of his (the prince's) high character and honor to have asserted that which he did not believe to be true."  We will never know what Prince Poniatowski really believed, whether he was taken by gem engravers selling him invented gems as ancient, or wheter he created the ruse, but I tend to believe that the Prince knew exactly what he was doing, and his reluctance to let many people see the collection would support that.  In addition a group of sketches by the gem-engraver Giovanni Calandrelli in Berlin has come to light, illustrating the myths and scenes that were then engraved on the gems, and on the Oxford Beazley Archives, the relevant sketches are featured on the gems they were the template for.  It is pretty remarkable to be able to follow a work of art from concept to execution, something we can for many of these gems.
The gems art historical value are now being re-appraised, and thanks to Oxford attempting to put the collection back to again, we are getting a new look at them.  This gem is an example of the best of them, they don't get better, and the material is beautiful, most of the gems are carved in carnelian, and only some in amethyst.  Being in its original setting also ads to the historic value of this gem, I'm happy to have it.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Size Matters, the new Statue of Juno in Boston

This magnificent statue of Juno was recently rediscovered in the Boston area, and is now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It is on display oddly enough in the large arched ceilinged hall where the Egyptian Old Kingdom sculptures are.  While incongruous now, the wall label informs us that the statue will remain where she is, "as the star of our future gallery dedicated to the gods, goddesses and heroes of ancient Greece and Rome."  It seems that the Egyptian collection is going to go into the new ground level galleries where already a good portion have been put, and this will become a gallery for classical sculptures.  Given the great effort made to install this sculpture here, they had to create a steel frame around the statue, and with a crane, lift it up and drop it through the skylight in order to put it in the gallery, I'm not surprised that here Juno will remain.

The museum label proudly proclaims that this is the largest Classical sculpture in any museum in the US, standing 13 feet tall (I would guess with the head but they don't say, it currently has been taken off for conservation, and is displayed next to the body) and weighs 13,000 pounds. In fact the museum's label states that this is one of the largest sculptures found in Rome, which I found a little unbelievable.  So I did a little research, looking up the Hercules Farnese, and the Flora Farnese, two of the largest Roman sculptures I know of.  And indeed, the newly rediscovered Juno is larger than both of them.  In person, all of this means little, the effect of this sculpture is monumental; Juno here is awesome, in the true meaning of the word.  And it is as beautifully carved a Roman sculpture as exists, the quality of this sculpture is very high.  The drapery is wonderfully carved with even the creases left where the robes had been folded for storage indicated. The forms of the body are quite evident under the garments, and Juno is here matronly, of large and impressive proportions, but not at all overweight, and gives the impression of great strength and substantiality.  Given the history of this statue, it has been the ornament of gardens for centuries, it is remarkably well preserved.

The history of the sculpture is interesting, as it was recorded as being in the Villa Ludovisi in 1633, and somewhere around 1900 it was purchased by a wealthy Bostonian woman, Mary Pratt Sprague, and brought to her estate in Brooklyn known as Faulkner Farm, where it was featured in the garden. Despite being exposed to the elements for centuries, the sculpture is crisp and relatively well preserved.  I am glad however that Juno is now safely inside a great museum where she can be seen by the public. 
 Here you see the statue of Juno in what is currently the Old Kingdom Egyptian Hall.  You get a sense of her scale in relation to the other sculptures and how she dominates the hall.

 Another view showing the beautifully carved drapery and the way it molds to the form of the body underneath.
 The statue with its head displayed separately.  The head is pretty good as well, although it seems more weathered than the body.

View of the back, which while not as well carved as the front as in antiquity it was intended to be seen from the front, it is still finished.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Face of Glory

Jade belt buckle, China, Han Dynasty, Length: 3 1/8 inches.

I recently purchased two exceptional jade belt pieces, which feature monster faces straight from your worst night mares.  Incredible quality, beautifully carved with incised surface decoration, they represent the best of Chinese archaic jade carving.  While the leading expert dates them the the Yuan, Ming period, 14th to 16th Century, another scholar, and myself, see them as Han Dynasty, somewhere before 0 B.C., or just after.  The Han Dynasty lasted for 400 years, from 206 B.C. to 220 A.D. with an interregnum at about from 9 to 23 A.D. when a regent took power as emperor, Wang Mang. Later jades, just do not have the quality and intensity you find in Archaic jades, which era ends with the Han Dynasty.  On the surface of both are incised lines of a type you find starting in the Eastern Chou through the Han Dynasty, but not after.  So to my mind, these are Han Dynasty.

Jade belt buckle, China, Han Dynasty, Length: 3 inches.

While apotropaic, intended to ward of evil, much as the Medusa head did for Athena, these heads brought to mind a story told in a book I've been reading and re-reading, Myths and Symbols in Indian Art and Civilization, by Heinrich Zimmer.  The book is pure poetry and so full of information that you cannot absorb its wisdom in one read.  I'll recount the tale as Zimmer wrote it and let the reader see if it fits the images above:

"There was once a great titan king called Jalandhara. By virtue of extraordinary austerities he had accumulated to himself irresistible powers.  Equipped with these, he had gone forth against the gods of all the created spheres, and, unseating them, had established his new order.  His humiliating government was tyrannical, wasteful, careless of the traditional laws of the universe, wicked and utterly selfish. In a tremendous and ultimate excess of pride, Jalandhara sent a messenger-demon to challenge and humble the High God himself, Shiva the creator, sustainer, and destroyer of the world.
.......This Rahu, then, was the demon sent by Jalandhara to humiliate the High God. It was at this time that Shiva was contemplating marrying his love, the Goddess Shakti, in the form of Parvati, the beautiful moon-like daughter of the mountain king. .... The challenge brought by the messenger, Rahu, was that Shiva should give up his shining jewel of a bride, "the Fairest Maiden in all of the Worlds," and without further ado turn her over to the new master of existence, the titan tyrant, Jalandhara.
The moment Rahu tendered Jalandhara's demand that the Goddess should be delivered to him - The Shakti of the universe to become the tyrant's principal queen - Shiva countered the colossal challenge. From the spot between his two eyebrows - the spot called "The Lotus of Command", where the center of enlightenment is located and the spiritual eye of the advanced seer is opened - the god let fly a terrific burst of power, which explosion immediately took the physical shape of a horrendous, lion-headed demon. The alarming body of the monster was lean and emaciated, giving notice of insatiable hunger, yet its strength was resilient and obviously irresistible. The apparition's throat roared like thunder; the eyes burnt like fire; the mane, disheveled, spread far and wide into space.
Rahu, was aghast.
Rahu, the messenger, was adept, however, in the techniques of supernatural power-politics. When the incarnate burst-of-wrath made a rush at him, he replied with the only possible remaining move: he took refuge in the all-protecting fatherhood and benevolence of the Almighty, Shiva himself. This created a new and very difficult situation; for the god immediately bade the monster spare the petitioner, and the half-lion was left with a painful hunger but no proper food on which to feast it. The creature asked the god to assign some victim on which the torment might be appeased. 
(In Indian mythology, from the Vedas down, this power-principle is constantly reiterated: whenever a demon, by command of a god, is forced, for one reason or another, to release its legitimate prey, some substitute must be provided...)
Shiva was equal to the occasion, he suggested that the monster should feed on the flesh of his own feet and hands. Forthwith, to this incredible banquet that incredible incarnation of blind voraciousness proceeded. Ravaged by its congenital hunger, it ate and ate. And having devoured not only its feet and hands, but its arms and legs as well, it was still unable to stop. The teeth went through its own belly and chest and neck, until only the face remained. .......
Shiva watched silently, but with supreme delight, the bloodcurdling, nightmarish procedure, and then, gratified by the vivid manifestation of the self-consuming power of his own substance, he smiled upon that creature of his wrath-which had reduced its own body, joint by joint, to the nothingness of only a face - and benignantly declared: "You will be known, henceforth, as "Face of Glory", and I ordain that you shall abide forever at my door.  Whoever neglects to worship you shall never win my grace.

In these monster faces I see the self devouring beast, reduced to its head, hungry still and ready to eat those that endanger the one wearing it.  Unfortunately, to my mind, Zimmer never tells the reader what becomes of the evil tyrant Jalandhara.  Rahu, his messenger is forgiven, but what became of the king?  One hopes that he set "Face of Glory" after him. 

You will find such monster faces throughout Chinese Buddhist sculpture, adorning a Bodhisattva, or a shrine, protecting the divine figures.

The colossal statue above, in the Metropolitan Museum, is from the Northern Zhou Dynasty, dating to about 580 A.D., and stands 4.2 meters, 13 feet 9 inches tall.  It's an amazing statue, and its measurements don't begin to convey how huge it seems when one is front of it. The detail relevant to this post however, is the central element of its elaborate jeweled harness, the demon mask.  Here the horrible monster protects the bodhisattva, in this case thought to be Kuanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion.

 Above is a detail of a shrine from the Northern Qi Dynasty, 550-577 A.D., where you see the monster face over the door with floral elements coming out of its mouth.  Another benevolent use of the monster.