Object Image

Guanyin of the Southern Sea

Bodhisattvas are deities who, unlike Buddhas, forgo Nirvana until that time when all sentient beings shall have attained enlightenment. Of these, Guanyin became the most popular as the deity of mercy and compassion, answering prayers and protecting the faithful from catastrophe. Guanyin sits in the position of Royal Ease on a mossy rockery representing Potalaka, an island in the southern sea that is the deity's home. Originally the rockery probably continued up and around the image creating a grotto by the sea. This image epitomizes the new humanism that begins to imbue Buddhist sculpture during the 11th and 12th centuries. The figure is majestic, yet it also exudes a benign calm and warmth that make it more approachable and emotionally appealing than earlier images. Apart from the right forearm, the figure and base were carved from the trunk of a single tree. The paint and gessoed designs date from the 16th century, and recent scientific examination of the piece has revealed that the original surface of the face, chest and hands was flesh-colored.

Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust

Liao (907-1125) or Jin Dynasty (1115-1234)
Wood with multiple layers of paint
95.0 x 66.0 x 43.5 in
Image and text: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, 2023

Where you'll find this

Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Permanent collection

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