Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara as the Water-Moon Guanyin

Seated figure of Guanyin on a rocky ledge with a dragon coming out the water; animals and figures fill the rocky niches around Guanyin. To the left of the deity, a humanlike figure with a tail and a child on its back offers a bowl to Guanyin. Inscription on reverse with date of 1091.

Historical period(s)
Northern Song dynasty, 1091
Medium
Marble
Dimensions
H x W x D: 74.3 x 49.9 x 27.4 cm (29 1/4 x 19 5/8 x 10 13/16 in)
Geography
China
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Collection
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
F1913.28
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Sculpture, Stone
Type

Sculpture

Keywords
bodhisattva, Buddhism, China, dragon, Guanyin, mudra, Northern Song dynasty (960 - 1127)
Provenance

To 1913
Yamanaka & Company, New York to 1913 [1]

From 1913 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Yamanaka & Company, New York in 1913 [2]

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

Notes:

[1] Undated folder sheet note. See S.I. 405, Original Miscellaneous List, pg. 128, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

[2] See note 1.

[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.

Previous Owner(s)

Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919
Yamanaka and Co. (C.L. Freer source) 1917 - 1965

Description

Seated figure of Guanyin on a rocky ledge with a dragon coming out the water; animals and figures fill the rocky niches around Guanyin. To the left of the deity, a humanlike figure with a tail and a child on its back offers a bowl to Guanyin. Inscription on reverse with date of 1091.

Inscription(s)

Inscription includes a date of year 6 of the Yuanyou reign.

Label

Charles Lang Freer bought this sculpture in 1913 with complete confidence in the inscribed date of 1091. A decade later, the Freer Gallery's first director, John Ellerton Lodge, mused that the piece seemed "crude and not so early." In the 1960s the sculpture was reevaluated and the date of 1091 was confirmed by relating the sculpture to similar works in Chinese and foreign collections.

The long inscription on the reverse identifies the deity as Guanyin, an identification  supported by the special attributes of the sculpture, including his seated posture on a stone ledge, the vase of willow branches, and the bowl of lotus flowers. The precipice refers to Guanyin's supposed residence on a rocky island, and the coiled dragon, a denizen of the seas and special friend of Guanyin, indicates the presence of water.

Animals and human figures surround the deity, alluding to Guanyin's merciful powers to help all living creatures. The monkey holding out a bowl, at left, refers to a story about a primate who experienced such elation after the Buddha accepted an offering of wild honey from him that he accidentally killed himself performing joyous stunts. In reward for his charity to Buddha, he was reborn as a holy man.






Published References
  • Osvald Siren. A History of Early Chinese Art. 4 vols., London, 1929-1930. vol. 3, pl. 105b.
  • unknown title. cat. 87.
  • Mary Gardner Neill. The Communion of Scholars: Chinese Art at Yale. Exh. cat. New York, 1982-1983. cat. 21.
  • Osvald Siren. Studien zur chinesischen Plastik der Post-T'angzeit. Jahresgabe d. Ges. f. Ostasiat. Kunst, 2 Berlin. p. 1, fig. 1.
  • Osvald Siren. Chinese Sculpture of the Sung, Liao and Chin Dynasties. vol. 14 Stockholm. pp. 45-64, pl. 6, no. 3.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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