Qi Dynasty Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Qi Dynasty Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Bodhisattva, probably Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin), Northern Qi dynasty, c.550-60, Shanxi Province, China, sandstone with pigments, 13-3/4 feet / 419.1 cm high (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

Image : Large-scale sculptures of bodhisattvas wearing extraordinary jewelry epitomize stylistic and iconographic innovations in Chinese sculpture from the second half of the sixth century.

The astonishing jeweled harness adorning this bodhisattva is made up of two long strands of pearl-like clusters and multifaceted beads. Some elements, such as the triangular pendants, have Chinese precedents. Others, such as the pearl cabochons, derive from Central Asian traditions.

The appearance of such elaborately figural sculptures, which later became standard in Chinese Buddhist art, attests to a growing devotion to Avalokiteshvara in the second half of the sixth century.

It is possible that the jewels refer to a passage in the Lotus Sutra in which the historical Buddha Shakyamuni and another bodhisattva extol Avalokiteshvara’s great compassion and presents him with a pearl necklace as a symbol of his benevolence.

Buddhist Art (short film around 8 minutes long).

Bodhisattva, probably Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin), ca. 550–560 (C) The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


The name Avalokiteśvara combines the verbal prefix ava "down", lokita, a past participle of the verb lok "to notice, behold, observe", here used in an active sense and finally īśvara, "lord", "ruler", "sovereign" or "master". In accordance with sandhi (Sanskrit rules of sound combination), a+īśvara becomes eśvara. Combined, the parts mean "lord who gazes down (at the world)". The word loka ("world") is absent from the name, but the phrase is implied. [3] It does appear in the Cambodian form of the name, Lokesvarak.

The earliest translation of the name Avalokiteśvara into Chinese by authors such as Xuanzang was as Guānzìzài (Chinese: 觀自在 ), not the form used in East Asian Buddhism today, Guanyin (Chinese: 觀音 ). It was initially thought that this was due to a lack of fluency, as Guanyin indicates the original Sanskrit form was instead Avalokitasvara, "who looked down upon sound" (i.e., the cries of sentient beings who need help). [4] It is now understood Avalokitasvara was the original form, [5] [6] and is also the origin of Guanyin "Perceiving sound, cries". This translation was favored by the tendency of some Chinese translators, notably Kumārajīva, to use the variant 觀世音 Guānshìyīn "who perceives the world's lamentations"—wherein lok was read as simultaneously meaning both "to look" and "world" (Sanskrit loka Chinese: 世 pinyin: shì ). [4] The original form Avalokitasvara appears in Sanskrit fragments of the fifth century. [7]

This earlier Sanskrit name was supplanted by the form containing the ending -īśvara "lord" but Avalokiteśvara does not occur in Sanskrit before the seventh century.

The original meaning of the name fits the Buddhist understanding of the role of a bodhisattva. The reinterpretation presenting him as an īśvara shows a strong influence of Hinduism, as the term īśvara was usually connected to the Hindu notion of Vishnu (in Vaishnavism) or Śiva (in Shaivism) as the Supreme Lord, Creator and Ruler of the world. Some attributes of such a god were transmitted to the bodhisattva, but the mainstream of those who venerated Avalokiteśvara upheld the Buddhist rejection of the doctrine of any creator god. [8]

In Sanskrit, Avalokiteśvara is also referred to as Padmapāṇi ("Holder of the Lotus") or Lokeśvara ("Lord of the World"). In Tibetan, Avalokiteśvara is Chenrézig, (Tibetan: སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས་ ) and is said to emanate as the Dalai Lama, [9] the Karmapa [10] [11] and other high lamas. An etymology of the Tibetan name Chenrézik is spyan "eye", ras "continuity" and gzig "to look". This gives the meaning of one who always looks upon all beings (with the eye of compassion). [12]

Mahayana account Edit

According to the Kāraṇḍavyūha Sūtra, the sun and moon are said to be born from Avalokiteśvara's eyes, Shiva from his brow, Brahma from his shoulders, Narayana from his heart, Sarasvati from his teeth, the winds from his mouth, the earth from his feet, and the sky from his stomach. [13] In this text and others, such as the Longer Sukhavativyuha Sutra, Avalokiteśvara is an attendant of Amitabha. [14]

Some texts which mention Avalokiteśvara include:

  • Avataṃsaka Sūtra
  • Cundī Dhāraṇī Sūtra
  • Eleven-Faced Avalokitesvara Heart Dharani Sutra
  • Heart Sutra (Heart Sūtra)
  • Longer Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra
  • Lotus Sutra
  • Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra
  • Karuṇāpuṇḍarīka sūtram
  • Nīlakaṇṭha Dhāraṇī Sutra
  • Śūraṅgama Sūtra
  • The High King Avalokiteśvara Sūtra

The Lotus Sutra is generally accepted to be the earliest literature teaching about the doctrines of Avalokiteśvara. [15] These are found in Chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra: Universal Gate of Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara (Chinese: 觀世音菩薩普門品 ). This chapter is devoted to Avalokiteśvara, describing him as a compassionate bodhisattva who hears the cries of sentient beings, and who works tirelessly to help those who call upon his name. A total of 33 different manifestations of Avalokiteśvara are described, including female manifestations, all to suit the minds of various beings. The chapter consists of both a prose and a verse section. This earliest source often circulates separately as its own sutra, called the Avalokiteśvara Sūtra (Chinese: 觀世音經 pinyin: Guānshìyīn jīng ), and is commonly recited or chanted at Buddhist temples in East Asia. [16]

When the Chinese monk Faxian traveled to Mathura in India around 400 CE, he wrote about monks presenting offerings to Avalokiteśvara. [17] When Xuanzang traveled to India in the 7th century, he provided eyewitness accounts of Avalokiteśvara statues being venerated by devotees from all walks of life: kings, to monks, to laypeople. [17]

In Chinese Buddhism and East Asia, Tangmi practices for the 18-armed form of Avalokiteśvara called Cundī are very popular. These practices have their basis in the early Indian Vajrayana: her origins lie with a yakshini cult in Bengal and Orissa, and her name in Sanskrit "connotes a prostitute or other woman of low caste but specifically denotes a prominent local ogress . whose divinised form becomes the subject of an important Buddhist cult starting in the eighth century". [18] The popularity of Cundī is attested by the three extant translations of the Cundī Dhāraṇī Sūtra from Sanskrit to Chinese, made from the end of the seventh century to the beginning of the eighth century. [19] In late imperial China, these early esoteric traditions still thrived in Buddhist communities. Robert Gimello has also observed that in these communities, the esoteric practices of Cundī were extremely popular among both the populace and the elite. [20]

In the Tiantai school, six forms of Avalokiteśvara are defined. Each of the bodhisattva's six qualities are said to break the hindrances respectively of the six realms of existence: hell-beings, pretas, animals, humans, asuras, and devas.

And also according to prologue of Nīlakaṇṭha Dhāraṇī Sūtra, Gautama Buddha told a disciple Ānanda that Avalokiteśvara had become a Buddha from countless previous incarnations ago, alias "Wisdom of Right Dharma Tathāgata", also had Ten titles of Buddha include Tathāgata (Thus Come One), Arhat (One Worthy of Offerings), Saṃyak-saṃbuddha (One of Proper and Universal Knowledge), Vidyacaraṇa-Saṃpaṇṇa (One Perfect in Clarity and Practice), Sugata (Well Gone One), Lokavid (Unsurpassed One Who Understands the World, Anuttarā (Unsurpassed Knights), Purusa-damya-sarathi (Taming Heroes), Sastā deva-manuṣyanam (Teacher of Gods and Humans), Buddha-lokanātha or Bhagavat (World-Honored One). Because of his great compassion, because he wanted to create proper conditions for all the Bodhisattva ranks, because he wanted to bring happiness and peacefulness to sentient living beings, he became a Bodhisattva, the title of Quan Avalokiteshvara, often abiding in the Sahā world. At the same time, Avalokiteśvara is also the attendant of Amitabha Buddha, assisting Amitabha Buddha to teach the Dharma in his Pure Land.

Theravāda account Edit

Veneration of Avalokiteśvara Bodhisattva has continued to the present day in Sri Lanka:

In times past both Tantrayana and Mahayana have been found in some of the Theravada countries, but today the Buddhism of Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia is almost exclusively Theravada, based on the Pali Canon. The only Mahayana deity that has entered the worship of ordinary Buddhists in Theravada countries is Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. In Ceylon he is known as Natha-deva and mistaken by the majority for the Buddha yet to come, Bodhisattva Maitreya. The figure of Avalokitesvara usually is found in the shrine room near the Buddha image. [21]

In more recent times, some western-educated Theravādins have attempted to identify Nātha with Maitreya Bodhisattva however, traditions and basic iconography (including an image of Amitābha Buddha on the front of the crown) identify Nātha as Avalokiteśvara. [22] Andrew Skilton writes: [23]

. It is clear from sculptural evidence alone that the Mahāyāna was fairly widespread throughout [Sri Lanka], although the modern account of the history of Buddhism on the island presents an unbroken and pure lineage of Theravāda. (One can only assume that similar trends were transmitted to other parts of Southeast Asia with Sri Lankan ordination lineages.) Relics of an extensive cult of Avalokiteśvara can be seen in the present-day figure of Nātha.

Avalokiteśvara is popularly worshiped in Myanmar, where he is called Lokanat or lokabyuharnat, and Thailand, where he is called Lokesvara. The bodhisattva goes by many other names. In Indochina and Thailand, he is Lokesvara, "The Lord of the World." In Tibet he is Chenrezig, also spelled Spyan-ras gzigs, "With a Pitying Look." In China, the bodhisattva takes a female form and is called Guanyin (also spelled Kwan Yin, Kuanyin or Kwun Yum), "Hearing the Sounds of the World." In Japan, Guanyin is Kannon or Kanzeon in Korea, Gwan-eum in Vietnam, Quan Am. [24]

Modern scholarship Edit

Avalokiteśvara is worshipped as Nātha in Sri Lanka. Tamil Buddhist tradition developed in Chola literature, such as in Buddamitra's Virasoliyam , states that the Vedic sage Agastya learnt Tamil from Avalokiteśvara. The earlier Chinese traveler Xuanzang recorded a temple dedicated to Avalokitesvara in the South Indian Mount Potalaka, a Sanskritzation of Pothigai, where Tamil Hindu tradition places Agastya having learnt the Tamil language from Shiva. [25] [26] [27] Avalokitesvara worship gained popularity with the growth of the Abhayagiri vihāra's Tamraparniyan Mahayana sect.

Western scholars have not reached a consensus on the origin of the reverence for Avalokiteśvara. Some have suggested that Avalokiteśvara, along with many other supernatural beings in Buddhism, was a borrowing or absorption by Mahayana Buddhism of one or more deities from Hinduism, in particular Shiva or Vishnu. This seems to be based on the name Avalokiteśvara. [7]

On the basis of study of Buddhist scriptures, ancient Tamil literary sources, as well as field survey, the Japanese scholar Shu Hikosaka proposes the hypothesis that, the ancient mount Potalaka, the residence of Avalokiteśvara described in the Gaṇḍavyūha Sūtra and Xuanzang’s Great Tang Records on the Western Regions, is the real mountain Pothigai in Ambasamudram, Tirunelveli, Tamil NaduKeralaborder. [28] Shu also says that mount Potalaka has been a sacred place for the people of South India from time immemorial. It is the traditional residence of Siddhar Agastya, at Agastya Mala. With the spread of Buddhism in the region beginning at the time of the great king Aśoka in the third century BCE, it became a holy place also for Buddhists, who gradually became dominant as a number of their hermits settled there. The local people, though, mainly remained followers of the Tamil Animist religion. The mixed Tamil-Buddhist cult culminated in the formation of the figure of Avalokiteśvara. [29]

The name Lokeśvara should not be confused with that of Lokeśvararāja, the Buddha under whom Dharmakara became a monk and made forty-eight vows before becoming Amitābha.

Hindu tradition Edit

In Hindu tradition, he has been depicted as an emanation of Shiva. [30]

Mahāyāna Buddhism relates Avalokiteśvara to the six-syllable mantra oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ. In Tibetan Buddhism, due to his association with this mantra, one form of Avalokiteśvara is called Ṣaḍākṣarī "Lord of the Six Syllables" in Sanskrit. Recitation of this mantra while using prayer beads is the most popular religious practice in Tibetan Buddhism. [31] The connection between this famous mantra and Avalokiteśvara is documented for the first time in the Kāraṇḍavyūhasūtra. This text is dated to around the late 4th century CE to the early 5th century CE. [32] In this sūtra, a bodhisattva is told by the Buddha that recitation of this mantra while focusing on the sound can lead to the attainment of eight hundred samādhis. [33] The Kāraṇḍavyūha Sūtra also features the first appearance of the dhāraṇī of Cundī, which occurs at the end of the sūtra text. [19] After the bodhisattva finally attains samādhi with the mantra "oṃ maṇipadme hūṃ", he is able to observe 77 koṭīs of fully enlightened buddhas replying to him in one voice with the Cundī Dhāraṇī: namaḥ saptānāṃ samyaksaṃbuddha koṭīnāṃ tadyathā, oṃ cale cule cunde svāhā. [34]

Another mantra for Avalokiteśvara commonly recited in East Asian Buddhism is Om Arolik Svaha. In Chinese, it is pronounced Ǎn ālǔlēi jì suōpóhē (唵 阿嚕勒繼 娑婆訶). In Korean, it is pronounced Om aroreuk Ge Sabaha (옴 아로늑계 사바하). In Japanese, it is pronounced On arori kya sowa ka (おん あろりきゃ そわか).

The Nīlakaṇṭha Dhāraṇī is an 82-syllable dhāraṇī for Avalokiteśvara.

One prominent Buddhist story tells of Avalokiteśvara vowing never to rest until he had freed all sentient beings from saṃsāra. Despite strenuous effort, he realizes that many unhappy beings were yet to be saved. After struggling to comprehend the needs of so many, his head splits into eleven pieces. Amitābha, seeing his plight, gives him eleven heads with which to hear the cries of the suffering. Upon hearing these cries and comprehending them, Avalokiteśvara tries to reach out to all those who needed aid, but found that his two arms shattered into pieces. Once more, Amitābha comes to his aid and invests him with a thousand arms with which to aid the suffering multitudes. [35]

The Bao'en Temple located in northwestern Sichuan has an outstanding wooden image of the Thousand-Armed Avalokiteśvara, an example of Ming dynasty decorative sculpture. [36] [37]

Avalokiteśvara is an important deity in Tibetan Buddhism. He is regarded in the Vajrayana teachings as a Buddha. [38]

In Tibetan Buddhism, Tãrã came into existence from a single tear shed by Avalokiteśvara. [2] When the tear fell to the ground it created a lake, and a lotus opening in the lake revealed Tara. In another version of this story, Tara emerges from the heart of Avalokiteśvara. In either version, it is Avalokiteśvara's outpouring of compassion which manifests Tãrã as a being. [39] [40] [41]

Avalokiteśvara has an extraordinarily large number of manifestations in different forms (including wisdom goddesses (vidyaas) directly associated with him in images and texts). Some of the more commonly mentioned forms include:

Qi Dynasty Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara - History

Sotheby&rsquos presented a selection of Chinese Buddhist sculpture from the Junkunc Collection. Most of the Buddhist sculpture offered were hammered down at prices above estimate, including the leading lot, a limestone figure of a Bodhisattva, which was sold for US$4.3m. Nonetheless, another top lot of the sale, a Tang limestone head of Buddha, was withdrawn before the sale. It is reported that the head of Buddha may have been originated from Longmen Grottoes, a UNESCO heritage site in China.

The sale featured 18 lots, all from the collection of Stephen Junkunc III (d.1978), an important collector in Chinese art. The sale pulled off a sale total of US$7.5m, realising 72% sold by lot. In addition to the withdrawn Buddhist head, four lots were bought-in.

Realising the highest price of the sale was a large limestone figure of a Bodhisattva from the Tang dynasty. The 100cm tall figure carried an estimate of US$1.5m-2.5m. It is a classic example of China&rsquos Buddhist stone carving from the period that saw perhaps the greatest flowering of China&rsquos plastic arts, the High Tang period under Emperor Xuanzong.

The bidding started at US$1m and the price went steadily up with a bid increment of US$100,000. After 20 bid increments, the price reached US$3m. Following an intense bidding battle that lasted 15 minutes, a lady in the room emerged victorious with her winning bid of US$3.6m. The figure was sold for US$4.33m after premium.

The second top lot was a 41.3cm limestone head of a luohan, from Song to early Ming dynasty. Luohan, or arhats, were close personal disciples of Shakyamuni Buddha. Although they attained Buddhahood during the course of their lives, they delayed entering Nirvana and remained on earth to protect the Buddhist dharma and to aid others in seeking enlightenment according to the instruction of the Buddha.

Estimated at US$150,000, this Luohan aroused strong interest from buyers. It was hammered down at US$760,000 and sold for US$930,000. The buyer is believed to be a distinguish tycoon in Hong Kong.

A marble triad group of Buddhist figures from Northern Qi dynasty, dated Tianbao tenth year (corresponding to 559) was sold for US$495,000. The Northern Qi dynasty (550-577) was one of the most vibrant periods in the history of Chinese art, both religious and secular.

The pose of the central figure, seated with one leg down and the other crossed with the foot resting on the other knee, is known as the &lsquopensive pose&rsquo and is one of the most iconic Buddhist images of the period.

Stephen Junkunc, III (d.1978), was born in Budapest, Hungary. He then emigrated to Chicago as a young child. His father founded General Machinery & Manufacturing Company there in 1918. Stephen Junkunc III, the manager and part owner of the company, spent his free time forming an extraordinary collection of Chinese art. He once owned two pieces of rare ru ware, along with over 2,000 examples of Chinese porcelain, jade, bronzes, paintings and Buddhist sculptures.

Lot results (from high to low price realised)

An Exceptional Large Limestone Figure of a Bodhisattva. Tang Dynasty

Lot no.: 8
Height: 100cm

  • Collection of Mrs. Christian R. Holmes (1871&ndash1941).
  • Parke-Bernet Galleries New York, 15th-18th April 1942, lot 386.
  • Nagatani, Inc., Chicago, 1st November 1962.
  • Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III, (d. 1978).

Estimate: US$1,500,000 - 2,500,000
Price realised: US$4,335,000

A Large and Rare Brown Conglomerate Limestone Head of a Luohan. Song - Early Ming Dynasty

Lot no.: 14
Height: 41.3cm

  • Collection of American Consul General Angus Ward (1893-1969), acquired in China in 1931.
  • Richard Ravenal, Asian Gallery, New York, 20th January 1969.
  • Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978).

Estimate: US$150,000 - 250,000
Price realised: US$927,000

White Marble Inscribed Triad Group. Northern Qi Dynasty, Dated Tianbao Tenth Year, Corresponding to 559

Lot no.: 6
Height: 36cm
Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978).
Estimate: US$300,000 - 500,000
Price realised: US$495,000

A Rare Sandstone Relief Fragment of an Apsara . Northern Wei Dynasty.

Lot no.:3
Height: 54cm

  • Yamanaka & Co., April 1943.
  • Frank Caro, successor to C.T. Loo, New York, 15th November 1961.
  • Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978).

Estimate:US$100,000 - 150,000
Price realised: US$362,500

A Very Rare White Marble 'Mythical Beast' Stone Panel. Early Tang Dynasty

Lot no.: 4
Size: 40.6 x 50.2cm
Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978).
Estimate:US$150,000 - 250,000
Price realised: US$300,000

A Marble Stone Fragment of an Elephant Head. Tang Dynasty

Lot no.: 2
Height: 17.1cm

  • Frank Caro, successor to C.T. Loo, New York, circa 1959.
  • Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978).

Estimate:US$50,000 - 70,000
Price realised: US$275,000

A Limestone Relief Fragment of Vimalakirti. Northern Wei Dynasty

Lot no.: 9
Height: 38cm
Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978).
Estimate: US$120,000 - 150,000
Price realised: US$250,000

A Rare Limestone Relief Fragmentary Head of a Bodhisattva. Northern Wei Dynasty

Lot no.: 7
Height: 36.9cm

Estimate:US$80,000 - 120,000
Price realised: US$162,500

A Small Gilt-bronze Figure of Avalokiteshvara. Tang Dynasty

Lot no.: 11
Height: 8.1cm

Estimate:US$10,000 - 15,000
Price realised: US$118,750

A Small Gilt-bronze Figure of Avalokiteshvara. Sui / Early Tang Dynasty

Lot no.: 1
Height: 9.9cm

  • C.T. Loo, Paris.
  • Collection of Sir Percival David (1892-1964), until November 1939.
  • Frank Caro, successor to C.T. Loo, New York, 26th February 1953.
  • Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978).

Estimate: US$10,000 - 15,000
Price realised: US$112,500

A Dry Lacquer Head of a Luohan Southern Song Dynasty

Lot no.: 18
Height: 28cm

Estimate:US$50,000 - 80,000
Price realised: US$87,500

A Gilt-bronze Altar Stand Tang Dynasty

Lot no.: 16
Width: 16.5cm
Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978).
Estimate:US$40,000 - 60,000
Price realised: US$50,000

A Limestone Fragmentary Relief Head of a Luohan. Sui / Early Tang Dynasty.

Lot no.: 10
Height: 15.2cm

Estimate:US$15,000 - 25,000
Price realised: US$37,500

A Superbly Carved And Extremely Large Limestone Head Of Buddha. Tang Dynasty

Lot no.: 5
Height: 70cm

  • Tonying & Company, Inc.
  • Parke-Bernet Galleries, 30th-31st March 1955, lot 301.
  • Collection of Jay C. Leff (1925-2000).
  • Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978).

Estimate: US$2,000,000 - 3,000,000

A Marble Figure of a Standing Bodhisattva. Northern Zhou/Sui Dynasty

Lot no.: 15
Height: 88cm

Estimate: US$400,000 - 600,000

A Large And Extremely Rare Sandstone Head Of Avalokiteshvara. Nothern Qi / Sui Dynasty

Lot no.: 17
Height: 46.3cm

Estimate: US$300,000 - 500,000

A Limestone Figure Of A Standing Buddha. Eastern Wei / Northern Zhou Dynasty

Lot no.: 13
Height: 56cm
Provenance: Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978).
Estimate: US$300,000 - 500,000

A Carved Red Sandstone Relief Fragment Of An Attendant. Northern Wei Dynasty

Lot no.: 12
Height: 56.5cm

  • Frank Caro, successor to C.T. Loo, New York, circa 1959.
  • Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978).

Estimate: US$50,000 - 70,000

Auction summary
Auction house: Sotheby&rsquos New York
Sale: Junkunc: Chinese Buddhist Sculpture
Sale date: 2018/9/12
Lots offered: 18
Sold: 13
Unsold: 5
Sold by lots: 72%
Sale total: US$7,513,250

Water-Moon Avalokiteśvara

Three Goryeo paintings of Water-Moon Avalokiteśvara. Left: mid-14th century, ink, color and gold on silk, 98.3 x 47.7 cm (Freer Gallery of Art) center: Kim Wu et al., 1310, ink, colors, and gold on silk, 419.5 x 101.5 cm. (Kagami Shrine, Karatsu City, Japan) right: 14th century, color on silk, 104 x 55.9 cm (Musée Guimet, Paris)

Goryeo Buddhist Painting

Amitabha triad, c. 13th century, ink, color and gold on silk, 211.5 x 80 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

The term “Goryeo Buddhist Painting” refers to a group of Korean paintings, mostly from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, that depict Buddhist icons, typically in a format of large hanging scrolls. As Buddhism flourished as the official religion during the Goryeo dynasty , various Buddhist artworks were produced under royal patronage and used for state-sponsored ceremonies and funerary rituals. These paintings reflect not only the beliefs, but the taste and refinement of the Goryeo royalty and nobility.

Buddha Amitabha and the Eight Great Bodhisattvas, mid-late 14th century, ink, color, and gold on silk, 160.3 x 86 cm (Freer Gallery of Art)

Pure Land Buddhism, focused on the Buddha Amitābha, is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism and one of the most widely practiced traditions of Buddhism in East Asia. It promises believers rebirth in Amitābha’s Western Paradise and enjoyed enormous popularity in Goryeo society. The Amitabha Buddha was typically portrayed either alone, in a triad, or flanked by the Eight Great Bodhisattvas . The bodhisattvas Avalokiteśvara and Ksitigarbha were also widely worshipped in the Goryeo kingdom, and numerous scroll paintings attest to their popularity.

Water-Moon Avalokiteśvara, first half of the 14th century, ink and color on silk, image 114.5 x 55.6 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Water-Moon Avalokiteśvara

Rosary beads, detail of Water-Moon Avalokiteśvara, first half of the 14th century, ink and color on silk, image 114.5 x 55.6 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

In this painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (above), the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara is depicted in typical Goryeo fashion as “Water-Moon Avalokiteśvara.” He is shown seated on a rocky outcrop protruding from the sea in his mountain-island abode, Mount Potalaka, where water flows from numerous springs and the landscape is populated by fragrant grass and flowers, marvelous trees, and coral. He sits with his right leg crossed and his left foot placed on a lotus-flower support, holding a crystal rosary in his hand. He is dressed in dazzling robes and sashes, with intricate gold details on his jewelry and clothing.

Sudhana, detail of Water-Moon Avalokiteśvara, first half of the 14th century, ink and color on silk, image 114.5 x 55.6 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Goryeo Buddhist paintings are well known for their delicate details and sumptuous execution. They include exquisitely drawn garments created through the ample use of mineral pigments accented with gold, and illusionary effects seen in the depiction of transparent veils. Here, long transparent veils extend from Avalokiteśvara’s crown to the pond in the lower portion of the painting, adorned with patterns of white hemp leaves or white medallions filled with flower patterns and plant scroll designs. Two stalks of bamboo are depicted behind the rock where Avalokiteśvara is seated, and his body and head are surrounded by a large luminous mandorla and a nimbus, or halo, to represent his divinity. On the rock table to one side, we see a bronze or ceramic kundīka vessel with willow branches. In the lower right-hand corner of the painting, the boy pilgrim Sudhana, who travels to seek enlightenment and wisdom, appears in a pose of adoration.

Detail of Water-Moon Avalokiteśvara with kundīka vessel at left, first half of the 14th century, ink and color on silk, image 114.5 x 55.6 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Inviting the viewer in

Detail of Water-Moon Avalokiteśvara, first half of the 14th century, ink and color on silk, image 114.5 x 55.6 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Goryeo Buddhist paintings were made by applying color to both the front and back of the silk canvas. By working on the reverse side of the canvas, artists could create subtle effects, intensifying and contrasting with the primary colors painted on the front. Gold was extensively used to delineate figures and to accentuate the decorative patterns on robes and jewelry. The body was outlined with ink, while a thin red line was employed for the facial features.

In some paintings, a diminutive moon is depicted at the top, from which the name “Water-Moon Avalokiteśvara” originates. The willow tree motif may symbolize the cleansing and healing power of the deity, and is also closely related to Chinese Buddhist paintings of the Western Xia dynasty (1038-1227), which flourished around the same time. [1] However, there are also several notable features unique to Goryeo artworks.

Water-Moon Avalokiteshvara, color on silk, 227.9 x 125.8 cm (Daitoku-ji, Japan)

The dragon king and his retinue, detail of Water-Moon Avalokiteshvara, color on silk, 227.9 x 125.8 cm (Daitoku-ji, Japan)

Goryeo Buddhist paintings frequently include secular and mythical figures, depicted as worshippers or patrons. They are often members of the royalty, aristocrats, or donors of paintings, wearing elegant court dress and elaborate hairdos decorated with jewelry and gold. These depictions allow us a glimpse into the taste for luxury and splendor amongst the ruling class in Goryeo society. For instance, in the painting of Water-Moon Avalokiteśvara held in the Daitoku-ji in Japan (above), a group of worshippers are depicted in the lower corner of this painting, kneeling and holding their hands together in a gesture of courtesy. They are identified as the mythical dragon king of the Eastern Sea, his queen, his royal entourage, and monsters bearing offerings of incense, coral, and pearls to the deity. Despite their small scale, these figures play an important role in the painting as well as the ritual context, acting as intermediaries between the secular and sacred worlds and inviting the viewer to the scene.

Tales from folklore

Rabbit pounding the elixir of immortality, detail of Water-Moon Avalokiteśvara, first half of the 14th century, ink and color on silk, image 114.5 x 55.6 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Motifs from indigenous myths, miraculous stories, and folklore predating Buddhism were also incorporated in depictions of this deity to highlight his spiritual power. For instance, the blue bird, the dragon king, the rosary, and the pair of bamboo stalks in the Water-Moon Avalokiteśvara are related to stories about the famous Korean monks Ŭisang and Wonhyo and their miraculous encounters with Avalokiteśvara. A rabbit pounding the elixir of immortality under a laurel tree in the moonlight is another motif derived from a myth of ancient pre-Buddhist China, which tells of a rabbit (whose image can be seen on the face of the moon) who uses a mortar and pestle to prepare a life-giving potion for the Moon Goddess.

Painted in vibrant colors of red, green, and blue with gold pigments, exquisite Goryeo Water-Moon Avalokiteśvara paintings represent the religious fervor of ardent believers in Pure Land Buddhism, as well as the splendid material culture of upper-class Goryeo society.

Possibly Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin) with attendants

A Maitreya triad.
Surface: gilded grayish incrustation and spots of green patina.
Decoration: details of ornamentation engraved. Inscription.

To 1911
Sung, Beijing, to 1911 [1]

From 1911 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Sung in 1911 [2]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]

[1] See Original Bronze List, S.I. 277, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

[3] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Sung (C.L. Freer source)
Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919

A Maitreya triad.
Surface: gilded grayish incrustation and spots of green patina.
Decoration: details of ornamentation engraved. Inscription.

Translation: "In the 5th year of T'ien Pao Buddhist Liu Li Yu had this image of Kuan-yin made in memory of his deceased parents and brothers."

The inscription reads: "Ta Ch'i T'ien-pao wu-nien nien-san-jihh Liu Chi-yu wai ch'i shih hsien wang fu wai wang fu mu hsiung tsao Kuan-shih-yin hsiang i-ch'u yuan wang fu mu t'uo-sheng hsien fang ti-tzu so-yuan ju-shih"[Chn].
It can be rendered: "On the 23rd day (no month given) in the 5th year of T'ien-pao of the Great Ch'i (dynasty), Liu Chi-yu made this image of Kuan-yin made for his ancestors of seven generations, for his deceased parents and elder brother, in the hope that his deceased parents be incarnate. Such is the wish of the follower [of Buddha]."

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Qi Dynasty Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara - History

This is a brief inquiry into the origins of Guanyin worship and iconography in China. Because the Avalokitesvara deity cults in China and Tibet were both wildly popular, it may perhaps be of interest to use the worship of Guanyin in China as a foil to study the worship of Avalokitesvara in Tibet. Alternatively, the Avalokitesvara deity cult in Tibet can be used as a foil to understand why exactly Guanyin came to be depicted as a woman in Chinese art.

History of Guanyin iconography and worship in China

Despite that Buddhism was introduced into China as early as the second century CE, the worship of Avalokitesvara (Guanyin) was a relatively late phenomenon. For several centuries after the fall of the Han Dynasty in 220, China was a politically fragmented country, and this was reflected in the eclectic nature of style and subject in the Buddhist artwork of this period.

In 589, China was unified by the Sui dynasty, and Buddhism was declared the state religion. It was during the Sui dynasty that Buddhism truly came of age, developing a distinctly Chinese flavour. The Tang succeeded the Sui Dynasty in 618, and thus began perhaps one of the most prosperous dynasties in Chinese history. It was during the Tang that abundant iconography of Guanyin, and other deities, can be found. With the flourishing of international trade routes, Chinese artists were subject to external influences, resulting in a period of great artistic creativity. Popular themes in art included depicting the 9 perils from which Guanyin saves sentient beings. This period also marked the beginnings of the feminization of this Buddhist deity it was part of a general trend in Tang art to make images of bodhisattvas “more beautiful.” During the Tang dynasty, Guanyin became a particularly appealing deity to female devotees.

By the Song dynasty (established 960), Buddhism had come to permeate all levels of society. Although the Song was a Confucian dynasty as opposed to a Buddhist one, Buddhist art nevertheless flourished due to the support of aristocrats, merchants and common people these people frequently sponsored the building of temples or creation of artwork. It was also during the Song dynasty that Guanyin was first fully depicted as a woman. In the Song dynasty we also see the emergence of the portrayal of Guanyin in white robes. Other popular themes of Guanyin art that emerged during his period were the Watermoon Guanyin, the Guanyin in his verdant island home of Potalaka, and Guanyin as the leader of souls. Incarnations of Guanyin also became a popular way of explaining the virtuous religious conduct of young females who refused to marry.

During the following dynasties, the Yuan (1260-1368), Ming (1368-1644), and Qing, Chinese culture became greatly influenced by Tibetan Buddhism. The Yuan emperors were of Mongol descent and were Tibetan Buddhist by religion, the Ming emporesr were Chinese, but were very interested in Tibetan Buddhism, and the Qing emperor Qianlong was renowned as a Tibetan Buddhist. During these three dynasties, the esoteric image of the thousand-armed thousand-eyed Guanyin became a very popular way of depicting the deity despite the persistence of other popular forms (such as the white-robed female deity). Yet, it is also fascinating to note that the esoteric image of Guanyin had been present long before the arrival of the Mongols esoteric Buddhism had long been popular among upper class circles since the Tang dynasty, and esoteric iconography were popular amongst them.

Interesting Questions

Why was the esoteric iconography of Avalokitesvara popular exclusively in the upper classes in China? What exactly was the appeal? Why was the depiction of Avalokitesvara as a woman more popular in China than Tibet?


Karetzky, Patricia Eichenbaum. Guanyin. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2004.

Neville, Tove. Eleven-headed Avalokitesvara : Chenresigs, Kuan-yin or Kannon Bodhisattva : its origin and iconography. New Delhi : Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers, 1999.

Soma Ghosh

Bodhisattvais a Sanskrit term for anyone who has generated bodhichitta, motivated by great compassion, which is an intense wish to attain buddha-hood for the benefit of all. Bodhisattvais a being who has not attained enlightenment, and may refrain from nirvana in the hopes of aiding others to reach it. The term is applied to hypothetical beings with a high degree of enlightenment and power. Bodhisattvas are an important subject in Buddhist art.

In Indian Buddhism, the term bodhisattva referred to the Buddha in his former lives. The Jataka tales, which are the stories of the Buddha’s lives, depict the various trials of the bodhisattva to develop self-sacrifice and imbibe high moral values. In fact Mahayana Buddhism is based on the path of a bodhisattva. It is believed that this term is synonymous with Bodhisattvayana.The list of Bodhisattvas include Akasagarbha, Avalokitesvara, Ksitigarbha,Mahasthamaprapta,Maitreya,Manjusri,Nio,Padmasambhava, Samantabhadra,Sangharama,Sitatapatra,Skanda,Tara,Vajrapani and Vasundhara. Suryaprabha and Supushpachandra are other bodhisattvas.

Bodhisattva Akasagarbha is related to space, Avalokitesvara is the bodhisattva of compassion and the most universally acknowledged bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism. Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha is revered in East Asian Buddhism and depicted as a Buddhist monk. His name may be translated as Earth Womb. He is the guardian of children and patron deity of deceased children and aborted fetuses in Japanese culture. Mahasthamaprapta represents the power of wisdom.Maitreya is regarded as the future Buddha. Maitreya is a bodhisattva who will appear on earth in the future, achieve complete enlightenment, and preach pure dharma or religious righteousness. Gautama Buddha before being born on earth was a Bodhisattva having attained this position by taking a vow for enlightenment, and then went through various births and was in Tushita heaven as the reigning Bodhisattva.

Manjusri is a bodhisattva associated with prajna or transcendent wisdom. Nio are two muscular guardians of the Buddha standing today at the entrance of many Buddhist temples in East Asia. Padmasambhava or Lotus-Born, also known as Guru Rinpoche. Samantabhadra is associated with action and he has made ten great vows .Sanghrama are revered in Chinese Buddhism and Taoism, a group of devas who guard viharas. Sitapatra or the white parasol is a protector against supernatural danger. Skanda is regarded as a devoted guardian of viharas and the Buddhist teachings. Tara is a female bodhisattva, or set of bodhisattvas, in Tibetan Buddhism. She represents success in work. Vajrapani is protector of Gautama Buddha and rose to symbolize the Buddha’s power.Vasudhara means stream of gems in Sanskritand she is the bodhisattva of wealth, prosperity, and abundance, similar to Goddess Lakshmi in Hinduism.

The Bodhisattva path is an arduous, difficult monastic but glorious path one can take, as described in Buddhist texts. The bodhisattva has to take vows to work for the enlightenment of all beings by practising six imperfections.A bodhisattva is one liberates beings from samsara, cycle of death, rebirth and suffering. A bodhisattva’s mind is known as the bodhichitta or awakened mind .

Hinayana Buddhism recognizes only Maitreya.The painted images of Boddhisatvas have been made in countries wherever Mahayana Buddhism has flourished.

Mural depiction of worshipping bodhisattvas, Wei Dynasty,6th century, China.

By unknown ancient Buddhist artist(s) – Cave 285. Wei Dynasty (535-556 A.D.), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9557200

Cave mural of Avalokitesvara, worshipping bodhisattvas,Tang Dynasty,618-907 A.D.

By unknown ancient Buddhist artist(s) – Cave 57. Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9557135

Amitabha with bodhisattvas,10th-14th century, Tokugawa Art Museum, Japan.

By Goryeo-Dynasty artist [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Painting of Akasagarbha, 13th century, Kamakura period,Japan.

By unknown artist – zAHGDjCz55_mHg at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22564534

Avalokitesvara painting,palm-leaf manuscript ,12th century, India.

Ksitigarbha painting, late 14th century,Goryeo, Korea.

Mahasthamaprapta,painting,13th century,China.

Maitreya ,illustration,manuscript,early 12th century, India.

By Metropolitan Museum of Art created the file. Artwork created by an anonymous ancient source. – http://www.nysun.com/arts/oases-of-color/83047/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11608769

Manjusri,illustration, palm leaf manuscript,Nalanda,700-1100, Bihar.

Padmasambhava,wall painting,14th century,Bhutan.

Samantabhadra,painting,late 18th-early 19th century.

By Unknown – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 1993.192.2_transp4510.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10967395

Skanda as portrayed by Zhao Mengfu,Yuan Dynasty,13th-14th century, China.

By Prajnyaapaaramitaa_Hridaya_by_Zhao_Meng_Fu.JPG: Zhao Meng Fuderivative work: Tengu800 (talk) – Prajnyaapaaramitaa_Hridaya_by_Zhao_Meng_Fu.JPG, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9608296

White Tara,painting,1644-1911,Tibet, Sichuan Provincial Museum,China.

Vajrapani, painting on one side of the Buddha, Cave 1,Ajanta,7th century,Maharashtra.

The benign, altruistic aspect of Buddhism is expressed in this beautifully sculpted marble head of the bodhisattva Guanyin (Sanskrit: Avalokitesvara). The miniature image of the Buddha known as Amitabha (Amituo), depicted in the crown, is clear indication of the bodhisattva’s identity. Certain features of this head are shared with other Buddhist icons: the concave forehead circle (urna) is an auspicious mark from which wisdom radiates the elongated earlobes allude to the aristocratic Indian custom of wearing heavy earrings, and thereby to the Buddha’s early life as an Indian prince.

This majestic head, which was severed from a monumental standing figure, characterizes the finest sculpture made in far northern China in the late sixth century. The fine-grain white marble from this area was well suited to rounded, smoothly polished surfaces and austere, idealized images. Serene benevolence emanates from Guanyin’s gentle, meditative expression (somewhat altered by later recutting of the pupils of the eyes).

A magnificent and large olive-green-glazed slender oviform vase and cover with applied decoration, Northern Qi Dynasty

01 mercredi Oct 2014

A magnificent and large olive-green-glazed slender oviform vase and cover with applied decoration, Northern Qi Dynasty. Estimate on request. Photo Bonhams.

Raised on a waisted spreading foot encircled with a band of overlapping lotus petals, the lower half of the ovoid body finely decorated with slender chicken-headed columns below intricately moulded roundels containing various motifs, including lotus blooms, phoenix, dragons and flowers, all below two large lotus-lappet bands in high relief, applied with three strap handles and interspersed with tiger heads and leafy sprays, the neck applied with monster-mask roundels, cartouches containing Buddhas, and leafy floral medallions, covered overall in a yellow-green glaze, the similarly-glazed domed cover decorated with eight acanthus leaves radiating from the bud-shaped finial. 65cm high (2).

Notes: The ornate applied decoration on this vase reflects an aesthetic strongly influenced by the Sassanian Persians and Central Asians. During the 6th century, trade with countries to the West of China grew, with many foreigners settling into Northern Chinese cities. Ceramics found in Northern Qi tombs often display Sassanian or Khotanese-style figures and motifs, including sprig-moulded stylised lotus blooms, tasselled palmettes, imitations of cabochon jewels in beaded settings, floral beaded medallions and monster masks. The appliqué decoration in horizontal registers creates a more complex silhouette, an effect that recalls the rich decoration of some Sassanian or Sogdian gold and silver with figural and floral friezes in relief.

In her published research monograph, Cultural Convergence in the Northern Qi Period: A Flamboyant Chinese Ceramic Container, New York, 2007, Suzanne G. Valenstein discusses the decorative motifs on Northern Qi vessels as an aesthetic that converged in China, but had roots from early Eurasian nomads and numerous cultural centres including Egypt, Greece, India, and other parts of Central Asia. Valenstein discusses the history of various motifs that are typical on Northern Qi wares like those on the present lot, including monster masks, lotus petals, feline heads etc.

Compare with equally ornate related vases, one in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri, and another in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, both illustrated in ibid, p.94 and 95, no.5 and 6. Both the Nelson-Atkins and Ashmolean examples are of similar shape with very similar lotus lappets. A Northern Qi jar also with lotus lappets, from the Tomb of Feng Shihui, Jing County, Hebei, now in the National Museum of History, Beijing, is illustrated by Robert L. Thor and Richard Ellis Vinograd, Chinese Art and Culture New York, 2001, p.174, no.5-22. Another jar with comparable lotus lappets is in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Ceramics Gallery of the Palace Museum Part 1, Beijing, 2008, p.108-109, no.55. The waisted neck of the Palace Museum vase is also decorated with dragons, but these are less well defined than the motifs on the present lot.

The present lot is particularly distinguished by its exceptionally well defined and finely moulded appliqué decoration. Each roundel above the unusual chicken-headed columns contains a clearly visible intricate motif of flowers or mythical creatures. The tiger heads, each of the same size, are carefully incised with striped fur marks, and modelled with tiny ears and beady eyes. The monster-masks on the neck are crisply moulded, each detailed with a ferocious expression, large horns and bulging cheeks. A related vase with very similar monster masks and Buddhas to the current lot, was sold at Sotheby&rsquos New York, 27 March 2003, lot 37.

The result of Oxford Authentication Ltd. thermoluminescence test no.C109g14 is consistent with the dating of this lot.


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