Wooden Sculpture of the Bodhisattva Guanyin

SKU X.0711

1300 AD to 1800 AD


46″ (116.8cm) high x 28″ (71.1cm) wide





Gallery Location



The Jinn or Jurchen Dynasty (not to be confused with the much earlier Jin Dynasty) was founded by the Wanyan clan of the Jurchen, the ancestors of the Manchus who would establish the Qing Dynasty some 500 years later. Originating in Manchuria in 1115, it brought the ruling Liao Dynasty to an end in 1125. This was followed by incursions further south into the China heartlands, culminating in the sacking and occupation of Kaifeng, capital of the Northern Song Dynasty, capturing both Emperor Qinzong, and his father, Emperor Huizong. Song forces under the leadership of the succeeding Southern Song Dynasty continued to fight for over a decade with Jinn forces, eventually signing a peace treaty in 1141, and ceding all of North China to the Jinn in 1142 in return for peace.

After taking over North China, the Jinn Dynasty became increasingly Sinicized. By the early 13th century, they began to feel the pressure of Mongols from the north. Under the leadership of Genghis Khan, the Mongol (later Yuan Dynasty) encroachment upon Chinese territory was unstoppable. Temüjin (Genghis Khan) who would later become the first Yuan Dynasty emperor was the son of Yesügei, the tribal chief of the Kiyad tribe in Mongolia (under nominal control of the Jin Dynasty at the time). He rose to prominence in a series of bloody battles following his fathers murder, followed by attacks on neighbouring tribes, which further increased his power. By 1206 he has successfully united all the tribes of the socially fragmented Mongol region, and had turned his sights further afield.

A major goal of Genghis was the conquest of the Jinn Dynasty, allowing the Mongols to avenge earlier defeats, gain the riches of northern China and mostly to establish the Mongols as a major power among the Chinese world order. He declared war in 1211. While victorious in the field, the Mongols were unable to take major cities until Genghis and his commanders undertook a concerted and brilliant effort to understand and destroy Chinese fortifications and resolve, developing the techniques that eventually would make them some of the most accomplished and most successful besiegers in the history of warfare. Following a series of peripheral battles, he defeated the Jinn forces, devastated northern China, captured numerous cities, and in 1215 besieged, captured, and sacked the Jin capital of Yanjing (later known as Beijing). The Jin emperor, Xuan Zong, however, did not surrender, but removed his capital to Kaifeng. On his deathbed in 1227, Genghis Khan outlined to his youngest son, Tolui, the plans that later would be used by his successors to complete the destruction of the Western Xia, Jinn Dynasty and Southern Song Dynasty. The Mongols completed the destruction of the Jinn in 1234, coming into contact and conflict with the Southern Song. In 1235, under the khan's direct generalship, the Mongols began a war of conquest that would not end for forty-five years. While engaged against the Song empire, however, Möngke the older son of Genghis Khan fell ill of dysentery and died in 1259. This aborted the campaign, staved off defeat for the Song, and caused a civil war that destroyed the unity and invincibility of the Mongol Empire. His death gave rise to Kublai Khan, the first Yuan Emperor of China.

Kublai Khan ascended to the Great Khanate in 1260, becoming the supreme leader of all Mongol tribes. He began his drive against the Southern Song, establishing, in 1271 eight years prior to Southern conquest the first non-Han dynasty to rule all of the Middle Kingdom: the Yuan Dynasty. Kublai Khan began to serve as a true Emperor, reforming much of China and its institutions, a process that would take decades to complete. He, for example, insulated Mongol rule by centralizing the government of China making himself (unlike his predecessors) an absolutist monarch. He reformed many other governmental and economic institutions, especially concerning taxation. The Hans were discriminated against politically, all good jobs going to Mongols. He improved agriculture, extended the Grand Canal, highways and public granaries. He also promoted science and religious freedom.

A rich cultural diversity developed during the Yuán dynasty. The major cultural achievements were the development of drama and the novel and the increased use of the written vernacular. Trade between East and West flourished, producing a fair amount of cultural exchange. Western musical instruments were introduced to enrich the Chinese performing arts. Tibetan Buddhism flourished, although native Taoism endured Mongol persecutions. Confucian governmental practices and examinations based on the Classics, which had fallen into disuse in north China during the period of disunity, were reinstated by the Mongols in the hope of maintaining order over Han society. Advances were realized in the fields of travel literature, cartography, geography and scientific education. The artistic traditions of this period therefore reflect the considerable turmoil that was the Jinn- Yuan zeitgeist.

This bodhisattva of compassion is resting in royal ease upon a rock throne, left leg dangling in a positively carefree manner while the right leg is hitched up onto the seat. The body is casually leant back against the left arm, while the right is leaning upon the right knee. However, the pose of the face is far from informal the features are carved in a placid and almost haughty expression, while the bolt upright posture of the upper body provides the drapery with an elegant framework down which to cascade. The carving is powerful and eloquent, yet formal in its interpretation. The tunic is tied off at chest level with extravagantly ruffed cloth detailing throughout, and trains of material hanging from the arms and from the level of the seat towards the ground. The tiara/crown is extremely ornate, with floral and organic designs woven into a complex arrangement that almost doubles the total height of the head; the hair arranged in curls around its periphery. The effect is finished with a necklace of bold design, hanging to the middle of the chest. Condition is excellent, with some of the paint and lacquer still extant; this has been accompanied by a smooth and regular patina consistent with the age of the piece. This is a rare and beautifully produced figure from a fascinating period of Chinese history, which deserves pride of place in any collection

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