Guanyin of the Water Moon

Historical period(s)
Northern Song dynasty, 968
Ink and color on silk
H x W (image): 106.8 x 58.9 cm (42 1/16 x 23 3/16 in)
China, Gansu province, Dunhuang
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scroll (mounted on panel)

Amitabha Buddha, Buddhism, China, Guanyin, halo, kalasa, kundika, mandorla, moon, Northern Song dynasty (960 - 1127)

Yamanaka and Company, New York, New York 1930 [1]

From 1930
Freer Gallery of Art, purchased from Yamanaka and Company, New York in 1930 [2]


[1] Object file, undated folder sheet. Also see Freer Gallery of Art Purchase List file, Collections Management Office.

[2] See note 1.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Yamanaka and Co. 1917-1965


Encircled by a flaming halo, this majestic bodhisattva, or enlightened being worshipped in Buddhism, sits cross-legged on a lotus throne. Both the inscription and various attributes, such as the flask and willow branch and the small image of a seated Buddha in the headdress, identify the central figure as that of Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, deliverer from misery. In the Chinese context, Guanyin is generally more familiar from later representations, in which the bodhisattva is presented in female guise. In this earlier Central Asian depiction, however--with its facial hair and bare, flat chest--the deity retains the masculine traits and gender identity of its original Indian manifestation.

The chief of four donors in the lower register is the male figure at right, a member of the Cao family, which at the time ruled the independent kingdom of Shazhou. That kingdom was centered on the oasis of Dunhuang, in modern Gansu Province, located near the eastern edge of the Takla Makan Desert and astride the economically and strategically important Silk Route. In the early years of the twentieth century, a large cache of painted scrolls and documents of various kinds was discovered at the famous Buddhist cave complex at Dunhuang. This scroll is one of the first and best-documented paintings to emerge from that important discovery.

To learn more about this and similar objects, visit Song and Yuan Dynasty Painting and Calligraphy.

Published References
  • Thomas Lawton. "画中人 上海书画出版社." Chinese Figure Painting. Shanghai, China. .
  • Dunhuang: Untold Tales, Untold Riches. Hong Kong. .
  • Suzuki Kei. Chugoku kaiga sogo zuroku [Comprehensive Illustrated Catalog of Chinese Painting]. 5 vols., Tokyo, 1982-1983. vol. 1 (1982 ed.): p. 247.
  • Dietrich Seckel. Buddhistische Kunst Ostasiens. Stuttgart. fig. 111.
  • Tanaka Kenro, Omura Seigai. Chugoku meigashu [Collection of Famous Chinese Paintings]. 8 vols., Tokyo. vol. 1.
  • Zhangju Liang, Jian Zhang. Illustrated Catalogue of Famous Paintings from the Great Collection of the Celebrated Connoisseur of Art, Liang Chang-chu of Foochow. China. cat. 3, pl. 3b.
  • Hai wai i chen [Chinese Art in Overseas Collections]. Taipei, 1985. vol. 1, no. 33.
  • Richard Ettinghausen, Ernst Kuhnel. A Survey of Persian Art from Prehistoric Times to the Present. 6 vols., London and New York, 1938 - 1939. vol. 1: p. 847.
  • Dr. John Alexander Pope, Thomas Lawton, Harold P. Stern. The Freer Gallery of Art. 2 vols., Washington and Tokyo, 1971-1972. cat. 34, vol. 1: p. 156.
  • Scientific Studies of Pigments in Chinese Paintings. Washington, DC. p. 12, fig. 1.3.
  • Masterpieces of Chinese and Japanese Art: Freer Gallery of Art handbook. Washington, 1976. p. 45.
  • Artists' Pigments: A Handbook of Their History and Characteristics. vol. 2, Washington, London. pp. 53, 78.
  • Paths to Perfection, Buddhist Art at the Freer/Sackler. Washington. pp. 86-87.
  • Thomas Lawton. Chinese Figure Painting. Exh. cat. Washington, 1973. cat. 16, pp. 88-90.
  • Larry Ball. 30,000 Years of Art: The Story of Human Creativity Across Time and Space. London and New York, 2007. p. 491.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Song and Yuan Dynasty Painting and Calligraphy
Google Cultural Institute
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