Some Guanyins (Avalokiteshvara) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

White-Robed Guanyin

White-Robed Guanyin

According to Buddhist belief, Guanyin (Avalokiteshvara, in Sanskrit), Bodhisattva of Infinite Compassion, reveals himself in many forms. In one such manifestation, known simply as the White-Robed Guanyin, the Bodhisattva sits on the rocky island of Putuo (Potalaka, in Sanskrit), believed by the Chinese to be located offshore from Ningbo, in Zhejiang Province.

The poem was inscribed (from left to right) by Quanshi Zongle:

The body is as small as specks of dust and as ephemeral,
So is the doctrine ephemeral and small as specks of dust;
The world of all living things is but emptiness,
And so Guanyin’s compassionate heart is at rest.

Quanshi Zongle, appointed by the first Ming emperor to the highest administrative position governing Chan institutions, served as abbot of the Tianjie temple, near Nanjing, first about 1375 and later from 1388 until his death in 1391. The painting, inscribed at the Tianjie temple, is datable to the end of the fourteenth century.

White-Robed Guanyin, Unidentified artist (late 14th century), China.

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in Water Moon Form (Shuiyue Guanyin)

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in Water Moon Form (Shuiyue Guanyin)

After the tenth century, one of the more prominent representations of Avalokiteshvara shows the bodhisattva seated with the right knee raised and the left leg crossed before the body. The posture represents the Water Moon manifestation, understood as a depiction of the divinity in his Pure Land, or personal paradise. Known as Mount Potalaka, Avalokiteshvara’s Pure Land was originally thought to be located on an island somewhere south of India. By the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), this mythical paradise had been identified with Mount Putuo, an island off the east coast province of Zhejiang, and had become an important pilgrimage site.

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in Water Moon Form (Shuiyue Guanyin) Liao dynasty (907–1125), China.

Wood (willow) with traces of pigment; multiple-woodblock construction. H. 46 1/2 in. (118.1 cm); W. 37 1/2 in. (95.3 cm); D. 28 in. (71.1 cm)

Bodhisattva Guanyin in the Form of the Buddha Mother
Bodhisattva Guanyin in the Form of the Buddha MotherIn Esoteric Buddhism, the Buddha is understood as having been born of the Law, which is regarded, therefore, as the Buddha Mother. This image depicts the Esoteric manifestation of Guanyin (Avalokiteshvara, in Sanskrit) as the Buddha Mother, a deity with multiple arms and a third “all-seeing” eye. In Chen Hongshou’s interpretation, however, the Buddha Mother does not appear as a formidable incarnation of scripture but as a winsome young woman. Her unruly hairdo and the unconventional gesture of clutching strands of hair in her mouth may derive from heroines of contemporary popular theater rather than Buddhist iconography.

This large-scale example of Chen Hongshou’s early figure style is a rare complement to the small-scale figures in his early album paintings and woodblock prints. At this enlarged scale, Chen Hongshou’s technique and idiosyncratic stylistic sources become readily apparent. His relaxed and fluid drapery lines do not follow the disciplined brush mannerisms of literati models but instead are derived from popular paintings and woodblock prints.

Bodhisattva Guanyin in the Form of the Buddha Mother, Chen Hongshou (Chinese, 1598–1652) dated 1620, China

Eleven-headed bodhisattva Guanyin

Eleven-headed bodhisattva GuanyinThe central figure in this magnificent embroidery is eleven-headed Guanyin, one of many manifestations of the compassionate bodhisattva. The eleven heads symbolise steps on the path to enlightenment.
This hanging illustrates the highest achievement of imperial Qing embroidery works of the eighteenth century. The embroidery features elaborate details. These include one thousand arms encircling Guanyin’s body with an eye in the center of the palm of each hand. An ink inscription on the object’s back panel indicates it was created in 1778 under the third Changkya Khutukhtu (1717–86), a Mongolian Tibetan Buddhist representative at the Qing court.

Eleven-headed bodhisattva Guanyin Inscription on the back in Chinese, Manchurian, Tibetan, and Mongolian: “On the twenty-fourth day of the fourth month of the forty-third year of Qianlong reign [May 20, 1778] the Emperor [Qianlong] commanded the Changkya Khutukhtu to supervise this embroidery [of] eleven-headed Bodhisattva Guanyin.”

Bodhisattva, probably Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin)

Bodhisattva, probably Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin)

Sui dynasty (581–618)

Late 6th century


Limestone with traces of pigment

H. 73 in. (185.4 cm)

Just a few of the wonderful Guanyins (Avalokiteshvara) at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Categories: Art, Buddhism, Encyclopedia, Mahayana



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