Wooden Sculpture of the Bodhisattva Guanyin

SKU X.0715
Circa

15th Century AD to 17th Century AD

Dimensions

37″ (94.0cm) high x 22″ (55.9cm) wide

Medium

Wood

Origin

China

Gallery Location

UK


 

The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (Guanyin Pusa) is the Buddhist deity of compassion and mercy. The Bodhisattva is here seated in a position of royal ease on a simulated outcropping of craggy, perforated rock, seeming to provide the impression that the Bodhisattva might at any moment awake from a state of deep contemplation and step down from the carved lotus rest. The Bodhisattva’s worldly ornaments – such as the high tiara and rich necklaces in sumptuous detail – contrast with the plainer image of the Buddha, whose minimal markings indicate ethereal status.

The confession of the Great Vehicle, Mahayana (Dasheng) spread from Kashmir, Gandhara, Sogdia and Inner Asia into China, and further to Korea and Japan. It teaches that salvation is possible to all sentient beings because they possess the Buddha nature in them and hence all can potentially be enlightened. Enlightenment is simply achieved by faith and devotion to Buddha and the religious ideal, represented by the Bodhisattva Pratyekabuddha (Pizhifo) or Arhat (Aluohan/Luohan), among others. These beings, though qualified to enter nirvana, delay their final entry in order to bring every sentient being across the sea of misery to the calm shores of enlightenment. Buddha appears in different shapes, according to the belief that Buddha appears in every age in a special appearance. Notable examples include the Amitabha (Amitayus, “Buddha of Endless Light”), Vairocana (“Universal Illuminator”) and Lokesvaraja (the Buddha of the Past). After suffering some disregard under the S’ong Dynasty, Buddhism remained very widespread but highly mixed with Taoist belief.

The late part of the M’ing Dynasty saw an increased emphasis upon Confucianism, combined with strong martial elements oriented towards defence – the Great Wall dates mainly from this period. When the ultra-conservative Manchus (from Manchuria, north east of China) took over in 1644 and founded the Q’ing dynasty, they set in motion a series of changes that utterly altered the face of China, including insistence upon the Emperor as a divine being, and a strongly separatist attitude towards the outside world. Paradoxically, the arts flowered during this period, although it has been suggested that the stylistic conventions engendered during this period remained essentially unchanged until the end of the imperial dynastic system with the hapless Pu-Yi (deposed in 1912). This figure, which dates to near the transition of the dynasties (15th to 17th centuries AD) therefore pertains to a highly dynamic and socially restive time, peculiarly at odds with the serene appearance of the figure’s face.

This figure is exquisitely carved, with softly and delicately executed drapery hanging gracefully from the right shoulder down to the rock upon which the figure is sitting. Attention to detail is intense: the drapery takes the form of a series of naturally-folded bolts of cloth, overlying a basic waist-high tunic, and narrower bands of cloth crossing the chest. She also wears an ornate necklace and a high-crowned headpiece under which rolls of her hair have been gathered and draped down the back. The body is leaning back against the left arm, while the right leg is hitched up almost casually, the right arm resting upon the upstanding knee. Condition is good, with traces of the original polychrome paintwork and a beautiful patina commensurate with the piece’s age. This is a superb example of the wood carver’s art, and a wonderful addition to any interior space or collection.

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