Head of Guanyin Bodhisattva

Sui dynasty
6th century CE
Height 43.5 cm

This Bodhisattva Guanyin head sculpture has a splendid crown with floral and tendril ornamentation, and retains traces of pigments preserved on its surface. The crown comprised of three-leaf structure had boldly sculpted details. The petals are carved with scrolling edges and foliage motifs. The relief figure on the front leaf should be a standing Amitābha Buddha, but no details can be seen due to badly weathered rock surface. Below this image is a blossoming lotus. The spaces between the petal leaves are filled with floral ornamentation from which hang three ribbons.

The Bodhisattva has an oval face, plump elongated ears, squarish jaws, wide-set facial features, flat shallow eye sockets, crescent eyebrows, thick heavy eyelids, long narrow eyes with wavy slits and lifted outer corners resembling ‘phoenix eyes’, straight upright nose with relatively narrow nostrils and rounded tip, full smooth lips with slightly sunken edges, a prominent square chin, and a solemn countenance.

Stylistically, this work is closely related to the statuary produced in Shanxi Province during the period from Northern Qi (550-577 CE) to Sui dynasty (581-618 CE), shares many similarities in the modelling of facial features and the style of the crown. However, overall speaking, the countenance looks more placid, the skin undulates more spontaneously, and the crown is more resplendently ornamented. The piece is a rare piece of sculptural art of the Sui dynasty. Since this dynasty is very short-lived, the majority of surviving Sui statuary are of gilt bronze while masonry ones are very scarce, thus making this Guanyin head sculpture a rarity. Moreover, its proven provenance in the collections of Yamanaka & Co. Ltd and various private collections in Taiwan has also enriched its legendary aura.