It was during the Northern Wei dynasty that Buddhism was introduced to China – an introduction which rooted itself firmly in the cultural fabric of China. Over 30,000 Buddhist images dating from the Northern Wei dynasty have been found to date. Guanyin is the Buddhist bodhisattva associated with compassion. In Buddhism, a bodhisattva is any person who is on the path towards Buddhahood, which is the rank or condition of an “awaken one”, a Buddha. She was first given the appellation of “Goddess of Mercy” or the Mercy Goddess by Jesuit missionaries in China and became associated by some with the Christian Mother Mary figure. The Chinese name Guanyin is short for Guanshiyin, which means “The One Who Perceives the Sounds of the World.” She is still regarded today as one of the most beloved Buddhist divinities.
Chinese Northern Wei Brick with Enthroned Guanyin
A finely moulded Chinese grey pottery tile, featuring the depiction of the enthroned Buddhist deity Guanyin, dating from the Northern Wei Dynasty Period. The rectangular brick features an ogival arched scene containing the depiction of the deity rendered in high relief. She is seated wearing a very rich robe which flows to the floor with many folds and drops, the top half painted in red and the bottom in green. She is performing the Abhaya mudra with her raised hand symbolising fearlessness and protection. The other hand is in the Varada mudra symbolising charity, compassion and boon granting. A mudra is a ritualistic pose or gesture which holds a symbolic meaning in Buddhism. Most mudras are performed with hands and fingers but some also involve the whole body. Her hair is styled into a high bun, painted in black pigment. A tall vesica shaped aureola, painted in deep blue, towers over her head, originating at her shoulders. Facial features, such as eyes and eyebrows feature a calm, contemplative expression and are rendered through delicate streaks of black paint, while the lips are painted in bright red. The original pigments would have been applied to the piece after firing, with the result that the paint would have been more prone to flaking. Such a well preserved example, with bright and vivid pigmentation, is a rarity.
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Period: Northern Wei Dynasty
Condition: Fine condition, some chipping to the sides, much of the original pigmentation still visible.