Sacred Dedication: A Korean Buddhist Masterpiece

The Sculpture

Use this silent video label to learn more about the sculpture, its components and construction, and the original location of the dedication materials it contained.

The wood used to carve this image of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Gwaneum in Korean) has been identified as fir, a member of the pine family. Further analysis of the wood reveals the sculpture most likely dates from 1220 to 1285, indicating it was made during the Goryeo dynasty (918–1392). The naturalism of the sculpture in addition to the applied jewelry—large earrings, bracelets and armlets, and jeweled strands crisscrossing the body—are other characteristics of bodhisattva sculptures from the Goryeo period.

The sculpture is constructed from fifteen different pieces of wood in the “joined block” technique. The crown was crafted separately from sheets of iron and copper that were later gilded. Decorative ribbons hanging from the crown were also carved from wood.

The Yi Royal Family Museum (Iwanga bangmulgwan 李王家博物館) bought the sculpture from Aoki Bunshichi (靑木文七) on November 18, 1908, for the price of 110 yen. A century later, the National Museum of Korea, the current owner of the sculpture, conducted an extensive examination of it.

A team at the National Museum of Korea digitally scanned the sculpture. Explore the 3D model and access additional information with this viewer.


How was it made?

Fifteen separate pieces of fir wood were joined with nails and staples to form the sculpture. Careful examination of surface cracks as well as X-ray imaging identify the joins between pieces.

The central torso is one piece of wood that extends upward to include the back of the head. The face and hair knot are two separate pieces that were attached to this element. Each arm is composed of upper and lower units, and each leg is made of one piece of wood. Staples were frequently used to secure body parts and to strengthen the joins of the bent arm. Long sharp nails attach the straighter arm.



The Crown

Separate from the wooden body, the crown and its extensions are made of metal and wood. The front portion is composed of three layered sheets of copper, like the applied decorations of flaming jewels and floral elements; all are covered with gold leaf. The back portion is a single sheet of iron covered with gold leaf. The flame-shaped ornaments extending from the crown are also gilt iron, and the decorative ribbons that hang from them are carved wood. Rings connect the front and back at two points at the sides.

It is very unusual that the wooden sculpture and its metal crown have remained together since the Goryeo period. Take a closer look at the construction of the crown.

A team at the National Museum of Korea digitally scanned the crown. Use this viewer to explore the 3D model and access additional information.


Conservation

Conservators at the National Museum of Korea carefully restored the sculpture in 2008. They used this photograph, taken during the Japanese Occupation (1910–45), as a guide to reattach elements and to replace missing parts, such as the fingers of the right hand.

image of the avalokiteshvara's golden, ornate crown, with areas outlined

Explore some of the conservation efforts in this interactive gallery.

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