Possibly Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin) in the guise of a Buddha

Standing bejewelled Buddhist figure with dragon standing a top the figure’s bare feet. A prominent “wan” (swastika) symbol in relief adorns the figure’s chest. The deity’s body is strongly extremely elongated and the arms and hands are exceptionally long. The hair is worn in snail-shell locks that expose a smooth, bump-shaped usnisa peaking through the hair. A small urna in relief appears on the forehead.

The right arm is flexed and a Buddhist jewel is held between the thumb and middle finger; a rosary looped over the wrist hangs down ending in a tassel that tickles the dragon’s back. The left arm points straight down.

A multi-stalked lotus issues forth from the dragon’s month. The central stalk reaches to the level of the figure’s stomach and supports a carving of a miniature Buddha holding a lotus. Two lotus stalks reach shoulder level; the one on the figure’s left supports a closed book (sutra). One lotus stalk supports a seed pod carved so that each of the seeds independently rotates within the socket in which it fits. The figure’s Buddhist garments bear incised floral and other patterns filled with ink to make the linear designs stand out. Traces of gold over most of the surface indicate the figure was once heavily gilded.

Modern wood stand.

Historical period(s)
Late Ming or early Qing dynasty, 17th-18th century
Medium
Ivory (fossil mammoth ivory) with traces of gilding, ink, and lacquer
Dimensions
H x W: 45.7 x 13 cm (18 x 5 1/8 in)
Geography
China
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Accession Number
F1957.25a-b
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Sculpture
Type

Figure

Keywords
bodhisattva, Buddha, Buddhism, China, dragon, flower, gilding, Guanyin, lotus, Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644), Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911), WWII-era provenance
Provenance
Provenance information is currently unavailable
Previous Owner(s)

Simon Kriger

Description

Standing bejewelled Buddhist figure with dragon standing a top the figure's bare feet. A prominent "wan" (swastika) symbol in relief adorns the figure's chest. The deity's body is strongly extremely elongated and the arms and hands are exceptionally long. The hair is worn in snail-shell locks that expose a smooth, bump-shaped usnisa peaking through the hair. A small urna in relief appears on the forehead.

The right arm is flexed and a Buddhist jewel is held between the thumb and middle finger; a rosary looped over the wrist hangs down ending in a tassel that tickles the dragon's back. The left arm points straight down.

A multi-stalked lotus issues forth from the dragon's month. The central stalk reaches to the level of the figure's stomach and supports a carving of a miniature Buddha holding a lotus. Two lotus stalks reach shoulder level; the one on the figure's left supports a closed book (sutra). One lotus stalk supports a seed pod carved so that each of the seeds independently rotates within the socket in which it fits. The figure's Buddhist garments bear incised floral and other patterns filled with ink to make the linear designs stand out. Traces of gold over most of the surface indicate the figure was once heavily gilded.

Modern wood stand.

Inscription(s)

Spurious Inscription dated 1025; of 16 characters incised on base.

Label

In almost every regard, this ivory figure is perplexing and intriguing. Until recently it was dated to 1025, based on the inscription carved
into the underside of the base. Yet, no figural ivory carvings have been documented from the Song dynasty (960-1279). A few similarly dated ivory Buddhist figures exist in other Western collections, but not many scholars accept the early dates. Were these inscriptions added legitimately, or by an unscrupulous modern dealer?

The intricacy of the Freer carving and the exaggerated elongation
of the body and hands suggest a date of the seventeenth or eighteenth century. The figure is similar to Dehua (blanc de chine) porcelain figures made during this period. Radiocarbon test results on the ivory do not tell much, since the carver used fossil mammoth ivory more than 32,000 years old.

The iconography of this figure was not common until the late
Ming dynasty (1368-1644). A raised cranial bump indicates that it is a Buddha; however, the clothing, jewelry, and prayer beads signify a bodhisattva, or enlightened being. This conflict is resolved in a belief that Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, can assume the form of a Buddha to help other beings. The dragon and miniature Buddha are attributes of Guanyin.

Published References
  • Jan Stuart Chang Qing. Chinese Buddhist Sculpture in a New Light at the Freer Gallery of Art. vol. 32, no. 4 Hong Kong, April 2002. p. 37, fig. 12.
  • Capolavori nei secoli: Enciclopedia di tutte i popoli in tutti i tempi. 12 vols., Milan, 1961 - 1964. p. 69.
  • Daisy Lion-Goldschmidt Jean-Claude Moreau-Gobard. Chinese Art: Bronze, Jade, Sculpture, Ceramics. The Universe Library of Antique Art 4 vols., , 1st ed. London and New York. cat. 113, p. 181.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
Rights Statement

Copyright with museum