The bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, or Guanyin in Chinese, played a crucial role as the protector of the semi-independent Nanzhao and Dali kingdoms (flourished A.D. 649–1253) in present-day Yunnan Province. The creation of this type of protective icon representing Azuoye Guanyin, the Ajaya, or all-victorious, Avalokitesvara, is depicted in the mid-tenth-century handscroll Illustrated History of Nanzhao, which details the miraculous introduction of Buddhism into Yunnan by an Indian monk, himself believed to be an incarnation of the bodhisattva. Significantly, the sculpture displays strong stylistic ties to images from Southeast Asia and India but retains a Chinese flavor in its relatively abstract, linear style.
Cast bronze, traces of gilding
19 1/8 x 5 x 2 3/4 in. (48.6 x 12.7 x 7 cm)
This item is not on view
Gift of the Asian Art Council
This cast bronze image of Guanyin, the God of Mercy, (Sanskrit: the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara), is one of a small group of such figures worshipped as the incarnation of the Indian monk who brought Buddhism to the semi-independent kingdom of Dali (fl. A.D. 649-1253), located in the present-day province of Yunnan, in south-central China. The Bodhisattva is shown standing barefoot, with the right hand raised in the vitarka-mudra and the left extended in the varada-mudra. The elaborate, finely engraved coiffure is held by braids or twisted cords that secure an image of the Buddha Amitabha above the crown which rests on the figure's forehead. The face is finely sculpted with a serene expression, long undulating eyes, a flattened nose and pursed lips. The earlobes are pierced, decorated with heavy earrings, and extend to the shoulders. The neck is formed of three delicate folds of flesh and is surrounded with a wide, decorated necklace secured with a loosely knotted cord at the back.
The figure wears elaborate armbands on the upper part of each arm and a string of beads on the right wrist. The high, slender waist is accented with a belt decorated with eight-petaled floral bosses. The long pleated skirt is secured with an elaborate sash knotted at the front and on the hips, and hands in stylized folds to the figure's ankles. Vertical pleats descend on both sides and between the figure's legs. The fabric of the skirt clings to the figure and forms a pattern of horizontal folds across the legs.
On the relatively undecorated back of the figure are two rectangular openings, one between the shoulders and one below the waistband. (The Chinese Porcelain Company notes that these openings typically held items of devotion.) Two prongs below the bare feet secure the image on a modern black laminate-covered display base, which measures 3 1/2 in high x 6 1/8 wide x 4 3/8 in. deep.
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