Eleven-headed Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Jūichimen Kannon)

Historical period(s)
Kamakura period, 13th century
Color and gold on silk
H x W (image): 102.2 × 41 cm (40 1/4 × 16 1/8 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scroll

Amitabha Buddha, Avalokitesvara, bodhisattva, Buddhism, halo, Japan, kakemono, kalasa, Kamakura period (1185 - 1333), varada mudra

To 1904
Yamanaka & Company, to 1904 [1]

From 1904 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Yamanaka & Company in 1904 [2]

From 1920
Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]


[1] Undated folder sheet note. See Original Panel List, L. 42, pg. 14, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives. The majority of Charles Lang Freer’s purchases from Yamanaka & Company were made at its New York branch. Yamanaka & Company maintained branch offices, at various times, in Boston, Chicago, London, Peking, Shanghai, Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto. During the summer, the company also maintained seasonal locations in Newport, Bar Harbor, and Atlantic City.

[2] See note 1.

[3] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919
Yamanaka and Co. (C.L. Freer source) 1917-1965


The bodhisattva Kannon is the manifestation of the wisdom and infinite compassion of the universal Buddha. Symbolic of his unlimited capacity to care for suffering beings, Kannon is represented in thirty-three distinct forms. Devotion to one of these forms, that of the Eleven-Headed Kannon, was especially popular among Japanese Buddhists from the ninth century. Indeed, social upheaval and apocalyptic fears that swept through Japan in the eleventh and twelfth centuries intensified cult worship of this welcoming, accessible deity.

This unusual form is based on a literal interpretation of a passage in Buddhist scriptures that describes Kannon as so overwrought by the sufferings of the world that his head exploded into fragments. Subsequently, his head was reassembled by his progenitor, Amida Buddha. Arrayed on the head are ten small heads, again symbolizing the protective compassion of the diety, and an eleventh head representing the Amida Buddha himself. Strict rules of iconography require three heads to be of bodhisattvas (enlightened beings), three heads to have tusks, three heads to display righteous anger, and a single head to be laughing.

In the rendering seen here, Kannon descends to the viewer on a stylized cloud formation. This attitude suggests that the painting may have been used to give solace to the ill or dying, a variation of images used to welcome believers into the next world.

Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)

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