Bodhisattva, probably Avalokiteshvara (Guanyin), Northern Qi dynasty (550–77), ca. 550–60
Shanxi Province, China
Sandstone with pigments; H. 13 3/4 ft. (419.1 cm)
The Sackler Fund, 1965 (65.29.4)
Large-scale sculptures of bodhisattvas wearing extraordinary adornments epitomize the stylistic and iconographic innovations of Chinese sculpture in the second half of the sixth century. An astonishing harness of jewels, which is suspended from his neck at the back, falls in two long strands composed of pearl-like clusters and multifaceted beads. Some of the elements of this jewelry, such as the triangular pendants, can be traced to Chinese culture; others, such as the pearl cabuchons, derive from Central Asian traditions.
The appearance of sculptures of bodhisattvas wearing such adornments, which later became standard in Chinese Buddhist art, illustrates the growth of devotion to the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in the second half of the sixth century. It is possible that jewelry alludes to a passage in the Lotus Sutra that presents a dialogue between the Buddha Shakyamuni and another bodhisattva in which the great compassion of Avalokiteshvara is extolled. At some point in the text, Avalokiteshvara is given a precious pearl necklace as a symbol of his compassion and his availability to the devout.