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Guanyin

Guanyin

  • Place of origin:

    China (made)

  • Date:

    550-577 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    carving

  • Museum number:

    A.7-1913

  • Gallery location:

    China, Room 47e, The T.T. Tsui Gallery

This figure sculpted from stone represents the Bodhissatva Guanyin, an important Buddhist deity, also known as the Bodhissatva of Compassion and Avalokitesvara in Sanskrit and who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. Depictions of Guanyin feature very widely in Chinese material culture from the earliest times of Buddhist worship in China in the late 2nd century AD. Guanyin can be identified by the small figure of the Amitaba Buddha that sits in his crown.

Bodhisattvas (with Museum No.A8-1913) are spiritually enlightened beings who help others attain enlightnment. Here they each hold a lotus bud as a symbol of purity and goodness. The lotus also represents the potential for attaining enlightenment.

Physical description

The tall slim figure, crowned, wearing a necklace and draped, flowing robes stands on a lotus base , holding a lotus bud in the left hand. The feet are bare. The head is framed by a pointed halo. The surface of the stone reveals traces of pigments and gilding.

Place of Origin

China (made)

Date

550-577 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

carving

Dimensions

Height: 88.9 cm from base of lotus to tip of mandala

Object history note

This sculpture along with A.8-1913 was bought from S.M. Franck & Co. in London in 1913 for £60. They also feature in the publication 'La Sculpture Chinoise' (plate 538), Annales du musee Guimet, biliotheque d'art novelle serie - 1, 1926.

Historical context note

The sculpture is thought to be from the Xiangtangshan caves, “Mountain of Echoing Halls,”; they are a group of Buddhist cave shrines established near the capital at Ye, and on the road leading between Ye and the Jincheng, the seat of the Gao family, which was much traveled during Eastern Wei and Northern Qi. The Xiangtangshan caves are divided among three sites where the major portion of cave-construction activity was completed in the Northern Qi dynasty. There are eleven caves divided among the three sites, the Northern Group, Bei Xiangtangshan, is the earliest and largest in scale and was begun with imperial sponsorship; the Southern Group, Nan Xiangtangshan, has smaller caves numbered from one to seven; and the third site at Shuiyusi, also known as Xiao Xiangtangshan or “Little Xiangtangshan,” which has one Northern Qi cave with sculptures. The caves at these sites were hollowed from limestone cliffs and carved with images of Buddhist deities, architectural and ornamental elements, and the texts of Buddhist scriptures. These elements represent various important religious concepts and ideals and can be related to popular belief and practice, the scholarship of scriptural texts, and teaching activity of eminent monks of the time. There are only a few dated dedicatory inscriptions from the period, and no contemporary record of the beginning of the caves, but some later inscriptions record the work. Together with the carved images themselves, they provide evidence for dating. (Information taken from http://xiangtangshan.uchicago.edu/introduction/)

Descriptive line

Bodhisattva; Scu, China, sculpture

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

'La Sculpture Chinoise' (plate 538), Annales du musee Guimet, biliotheque d'art novelle serie - 1, 1926. Written by Osvald Siren

Production Note

Although previously attributed to the Northern Wei (386-535), Katherine Siang Mino of the University of Chicago recently brought to light significant evidence to suggest that these two sculptures (A.7-1913 and A.8-1913) can in fact be dated to the Northern Qi (550-577). In addition she has suggested that they originated from the Buddhist cave temples at Xiangtangshan in Hebei province, PRC; and more specifically from the niches at the top of the central pillar of the North cave. Having been acquired in 1915 by the museum, they were likely amongst the first batch of sculptures to be taken from the caves. In the 1920's an effort was made to replace the missing sculptures in the North Cave, as recorded on a stone outside the cave entrance, so these sculptures (A.7&8-1913) were acquired before the production of modern images. These pieces will feature in the Xiangtangshan caves restoration project led by Katherine Siang Mino at the University of Chicago.

Materials

Stone; Gold; Pigment

Techniques

Carving; Gilding; Painting

Categories

Sculpture

Collection

East Asia Collection

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