Infinite Compassion and Light

A Rare Late Ming Guanyin

Guanyin is the Chinese name given to Avalokiteshvara, the Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion. Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings like the historical Buddha Shakyamuni, but who chose to remain on earth to ease humanity’s suffering. Guanyin’s objective is to hear the cries of the unfortunate and aid those who offer prayer. This deity is extremely popular in East Asia, and since the Song Dynasty (960-1279) has taken the form of both a male and a female. Late Ming examples, like this current figure, tend to have more androgynous features. 

This example of Guanyin is rare for its large size and extremely detailed casting. The lacquering and gilding are original throughout. This deity would have originally been situated on a high lotus and its gentle face features downcast eyes that personify the deity’s sense of compassion. The high crown contains a small figure of Amitabha Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light. This particular Guanyin exudes healing properties as well. The right hand is holding a willow branch, which is thought to cure illness in Buddhist mythology, while the left hand holds a small cup containing a divine elixir.  

Even though figures of Guanyin are extremely popular in Chinese Art, 16th/17th Century Ming depictions of this deity holding a willow branch and healing cup are extremely rare. For two fully gilded bronze examples on lotus bases, see Sotheby’s New York, Bodies of Infinite Light, 10 September 2019, lot 308, and Christie’s London, Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, 15 May 2018, lot 166.