Important Cultural PropertyAvalokiteshvara Bodhisattva

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  • Wood with color
  • H. 153.5 cm
  • Heian period, 9th century
  • Kyushu National Museum
  • C6

This life-sized statue of Avalokiteshvara (Jp. Kannon) bears marks left behind on their topknot and hair where other miniature heads may have been attached before, suggesting that it may have originally been a statue of Ekadashamukha, the eleven-headed manifestation of Avalokiteshvara. It was originally enshrined in Kannōji, a temple located along the west bank of Kamo River in Kyoto. Said to have been built by the monk Ichien during the Jōgan era (859–877), Kannōji was known by another name, Kawasaki Kannondō, and this has earned the statue nickname, Kawasaki Kannon. The Kawasaki Kannon garnered devout worship as the principal image of Kannōji, but was transferred to Seiwain Temple in Kamigyō, Kyoto, after the former temple declined at the end of the medieval period. Since then, it has stood in Seiwain, becoming one of the thirty-three major statues of Avalokiteshvara worshipped in Kyoto.

Avalokiteshvara is depicted here with a topknot-style hairdo, as well as a base for a crown on their head. The third eye in the corner of their forehead was appended at a later point in time. Their attire comprises a robe draped over their left shoulder, a skirt, and a long strip of cloth typically found on bodhisattva images. Their right hand is lowered and slightly tilted toward the viewer, with their thumb and index fingers touching. They stand on a lotus pedestal with hips slightly canted to the left, right leg slightly forward. The entire figure of the bodhisattva was carved out of a single block of Japanese nutmeg wood, and has been left solid (instead of being hollowed out like statues sometimes are). Currently, the statue is joined to the pedestal via a mortise, but the two were initially carved from the same log of wood.

The image bears features characteristic of early-Heian-period Buddhist statues carved from a single log, such as its high hips, thick physique, as well as the alternating high and low ridges formed by the pleats on its robes. It shares its taut cheeks with some works created between 834–48, during the Jōwa era, but the simple and neat folds of its robes suggest it was actually created in the late ninth century. The flawless integration of dynamism with the sturdiness that results from single-block construction makes this work a classic Buddhist image created in a style that sculptors had perfected in the early Heian period.