Wooden figure of Avalokiteshvara

From Shanxi province, northern China
Song or Jin Dynasty, 11th-12th century AD

Wooden sculptures, life-size and larger, were common in northern China from about the tenth to the fourteenth century. This example was found in Shanxi province, where many such sculptures were made. Shanxi had two important centres of Buddhist activity: Taiyuan, now the capital city of the province, and Mount Wutai, one of the four sacred mountains of Chinese Buddhism.

This sculpture represents Avalokiteshvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, known as Guanyin in Chinese Buddhism. The fleshy and naturalistic modelling of the sculpture recalls the style of the Tang dynasty (AD 618-906). It has glassy, reflecting eyes. The wood was originally polychrome (painted in several colours), but the image does not retain the original colour scheme.

The bodhisattva appears relaxed and serene. The figure offers an exceptionally compelling image of the bodhisattva ideal. Bodhisattva were beings who have reached the highest degree of enlightenment, but chose not to attain Buddha-hood in order to remain in the world and work for the salvation of others.

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Height: 1.700 m

Museum number

Asia OA 1920 6-15 1


Purchased with the assistance of the National Art Collections Fund


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