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Guanyin on Lotus Throne with "Atlantis" Figures
Item No. 16125

18th Century, Buddhist, China
Wood with Polychrome
44" x 18" x 13"
( 111.76 x 45.72 x 33.02 cm)
(H x W x D)

This beautifully carved Guanyin sits serenely with her hands in dhyana-mudra, tips of the thumbs touching to form the triratna, and her feet in padmasana with the exposed soles of the feet upward. Her lotus shaped eyes are cast down and her lips curved slightly and set in a benign and contemplative smile. Her long hair is tied up in knots at the back of the head in a chignon behind a small tripartite diadem with a stylized Amitabha Buddha in the center. Her undergarment is gathered above the waist by a decorative sash, and her outer garment with hanging sleeves lyrically covers her body, covering all but her exposed feet.

In this rare image, Guanyin sits on a throne that is held up by four wretched, grotesque Atlantis figures representing the forces of ignorance and the enemies of Buddhism who struggle and strain under their great weight. The contrast between the calm, relaxed and balanced pose of Guanyin, her contemplative and introspective temperament and her benign and beautiful visage in comparison to the nervous tension and the repulsive
features of the unaware and ignorant beings that hold up her throne is astounding, and it is a brilliant artistic solution for representing the triumph of Buddhism over ignorance.

The sculpture is especially significant, as it shows the influence of Tibetan Buddhism on Mahayana Buddhism in China during the Ming Dynasty. The theme of the defense of Buddhism against demonic forces or the forces of ignorance is concept more often represented in the tantric or vajrasana Buddhist art of Tibet or Nepal and less frequently seen in Chinese art. Religious and political ties between China and Tibet began with the reign of Emperor Yongle, 1403-1424) and continued into the Ch’ing Dynasty. Yongle, a devout Buddhist and a shrewd politician, courted high ranking Tibetan religious leaders, and during his reign Dezhin Shegpa, the Fifth Karmapa, accepted his invitation and became the first Tibetan Lama to visit the Ming court in 1406. With the arrival of Tibetan teachers came an interchange of artistic pieces and styles wherein Tibetan style and iconography was introduced into Chinese art, and elements of Chinese style found their way into Tibetan art.

The face,neck and hands are repainted.


John C Huntington and Dina Bangdel, The Circle of Bliss: Buddhist Meditational Art, Chicago, Serindia Publications, 2003.

Meher McArthur, Reading Buddhist Art: An Illustrated Guide to Buddhist Signs and Symbols, London, Thames and Hudson, 2002.

Chun-Fang Yu, Kuan-yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokitesvara, New York, Columbia University Press, 2001.

Chun-Fang Yu, “Kuan-yin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokitesvara” in Latter Days of the Law: Images of Chinese Buddhism 850-1850, Marsha Weidner, Ed. Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1994, p.151-182.

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