Shania Zhu

The Buddha of Compassion (excerpt)

Class of: 2022

Major: Strategic Design and Management BBA

Medium: Paper

Faculty: Margret Samu

Prompt: This is a formal analysis paper based on observation.

H. 10 3/4 in. (27.3 cm); W. 4 1/8 in. (10.5 cm); D. 2 1/2 in. (6.4 cm)
Gilt leaded bronze; piece-mold or lost-wax cast
8th Century
Image courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Open Access Policy

The Buddha of Compassion

“The sculpture of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara [Guanyin] (acc. no. 42.25.27a, b) can be found in the the Asian wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The sculpture has a minuscule size of only 9 and 3/4 inches tall and 3 and 1/4 inches wide, most likely dating back to the eighth century (907-60) in China. This piece portrays Buddha Avalokiteshvara in the half seated meditating position with excessive decor and jewelry. In this piece, the sculptor uses a range of formal devices to communicate the divine power and earthly compassion of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara to the viewers.

The basic form of the buddha has a freestanding and closed structure attached to a hallow trapezoid shaped base. The sculpture as a whole has a complicated silhouette with detailed carvings of accessories that poke out in various directions; such as: the low-relief backboard, the lotus flower in the figure’s hands, the figure’s jewelry and drapery, and etc. Since the sculpture’s size is minuscule, it is meant to be seen from up close in order to detect its detailed carvings. Even though this sculpture shouldn’t be considered a frontal sculpture as it is freestanding, the viewer can understand and identify the piece best with a frontal view. The small scale of the sculpture emphasizes the nonmaterialistic and anionic beliefs of Buddhism. The Buddhist culture originally despised the iconic depiction of the deity to emphasize the earthly quality of the buddha as he was born on earth (class notes). Thus, this scale focuses less on the deity’s physical body, but more on the ideology and meaning the buddha Avalokiteshvara embodies. The Buddha depicted in the sculpture has the Chinese name “Guan Yin”, who was associated with compassion and known to Chinese folk religions as the “Goddess of [compassion]” (reading notes). Guan Yin was believed to have miraculous powers and divinity that assists all those who pray to her (reading notes). The sculptor depicts such power through the Guan Yin’s accessories and position. For instance, the headboard attached behind the buddha touches the figure’s higher back is wider and almost as tall as the buddha itself. This portrays Guan Yin Buddha’s miraculous power by depicting him in a way that is strong, support something on his back that seems to be much heavier than the buddha’s own body, alike the way he’s believed to support his worshippers.”


“The figure’s propped up left leg that creates the illusion of a triangular shape, balancing out the lifted right hand, creating a sense of vertical symmetry in the figure itself. The viewer next sees a four-tiered octagon underneath the lotus flower that the buddha’s foot rests on. This layered composition demonstrates the form of steps, emphasizing the sense of elevated divinity that the buddha represents. Lastly, the shape of a trapezoid is located at the bottom of the sculpture. All together the shapes are vertically aligned and ties the sculpture together as a whole, emphasizing the symbolism of oneness and unity. This alignment leads the audience to gaze the sculpture vertically. Except for the diagonally mirroring position of the figure’s lifted left leg and right arm, the figure almost possesses a perfect vertical symmetry. Such perfection can be related to the idea of the buddha as a perfect being in the Chinese Buddhist culture.”