Bodhisattva, probably Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin)
Northern Qi dynasty (550–577)
Sandstone with pigment
H. 13 ft. 9 in. (419.1 cm); H. with base 14 ft. 9 in. (449.6 cm)
The Sackler Collections, Purchase, The Sackler Fund, 1965
Large-scale sculptures of bodhisattvas wearing extraordinary jewelry epitomize certain stylistic and iconographic innovations in Chinesesculpture from the second half of the sixth century. The astonishing jeweled harness suspended from the neck of the bodhisattva seen here falls in two long strands of pearl-like clusters and multifaceted beads. Some elements of the harness, such as the triangular pendants, can be traced to Chinese culture. Others, such as the pearl cabochons, derive from Central Asian traditions. The appearance of such elaborately adorned figural sculptures, which later became standard in Chinese Buddhist art, attests to a growing devotion to the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in the second half of the sixth century. It is possible that the jewels refer to a passage in the Lotus Sutra in which the historical Buddha Shakyamuni and another bodhisattva extol Avalokiteshvara's great compassion. At some point in the text, Avalokiteshvara is given a precious pearl necklace as a symbol of his benevolence.
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