National TreasureSenju Kannon

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  • 絹本著色千手観音像
  • 1 hanging scroll
  • Color on silk
  • 138.0x69.4
  • Heian period/12th century
  • Tokyo National Museum
  • A-10506

The Thousand-Armed Kannon (Skt. Sahasrabhuja Avalokitesvara) has a thousand arms and a thousand eyes, and endeavors to help all sentient beings. Above the head of the deity are eleven smaller faces and a manifestation of Amida (Skt. Amitabha). Two of the central hands hold a gold monk's staff and trident. Eyes appear in the palms of forty-two other hands, among countless other smaller hands. The Thousand-Armed Kannon forms a triad with two figures, one standing on each side: the female figure represents Kudokuten (Skt. Srimahadevi), also known as Kichijôten, the Goddesss of Merit, and the other figure represents Basûsen, the brahmin sage Vasu who serves Kannon.

Stylistically, the images of Kannon and Kudokuten are outlined with thick ink lines, shaded with red. Kannon's clothes are composed of gold paint and gold leaf, cut into fine, intricate patterns, and the mandorla is adorned with a pattern of gold foil and applied colors. Even among representative Buddhist paintings of the Heian period (794-1185), the subtle use of cut gold (J. kirikane) in this piece is unusually beautiful.