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Head of Guanyin

A large marble head with eyes closed and a serene expression, a large incised crown of figures upon her head.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • A large marble head with eyes closed and a serene expression, a large incised crown of figures upon her head.


late Northern Qi/Sui dynasty, late 6th century



About this artwork

The benign, altruistic aspect of Buddhism is expressed in this beautifully sculpted marble head of the bodhisattva Guanyin (Sanskrit: Avalokitesvara). The miniature image of the Buddha known as Amitabha (Amituo), depicted in the crown, is clear indication of the bodhisattva’s identity. Certain features of this head are shared with other Buddhist icons: the concave forehead circle (urna) is an auspicious mark from which wisdom radiates; the elongated earlobes allude to the aristocratic Indian custom of wearing heavy earrings, and thereby to the Buddha’s early life as an Indian prince.

This majestic head, which was severed from a monumental standing figure, characterizes the finest sculpture made in far northern China in the late sixth century. The fine-grain white marble from this area was well suited to rounded, smoothly polished surfaces and austere, idealized images. Serene benevolence emanates from Guanyin’s gentle, meditative expression (somewhat altered by later recutting of the pupils of the eyes).


On View, Gallery 101


Arts of Asia


Head of Guanyin


China (Object made in)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.

575 CE–600 CE


Marble with traces of metal fittings at crown


68.6 × 43.2 × 45.7 cm (27 1/16 × 17 1/16 × 18 in.)

Credit Line

Samuel M. Nickerson Collection

Reference Number


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Extended information about this artwork

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