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Kuan-Yin of a Thousand Arms and Eyes

Tags: National Palace Museum | painting | Sung dynasty

Anonymous, Sung Dynasty (960-1279)
Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 176.8 x 76.2 cm 
Kuan-yin (known in Sanskrit as Avalokitesvara) is the bodhisattva of mercy and compassion in Buddhism. A common figure in Buddhist art, the representation here differs from the one with one head and two arms often seen. Here, the head of the figure has 26 bodhisattva heads and one Buddha head. In the palm of each of the thousand hands is an eye, hence the name of this work. This type of Kuan-yin represents an important form in esoteric Buddhism.

Kuan-yin solemnly stands amid waves on top of a lotus pedestal supported by four Heavenly Kings. On either side are bodhisattva attendants, above are seated Buddhas on auspicious clouds, and below are reverent Eight Deva Kings in two rows. Kuan-yin here bears a moustache, but also has an elegant face and delicate figure, clearly revealing the feminine characteristics in the deity's eventual transformation as the Goddess of Mercy. The painting is elegant colored and the details of the jewelry have been rendered with exceptional finesse. The soft and flowing drapery lines are features of the Southern Sung style of Buddhist art that was transmitted to Japan, making this an important masterpiece of Southern Sung Buddhist painting.

Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum