early 10th century A.D.
Juichimen Kannon (eleven-headed Kannon)
Japanese, Heian period
Solid woodblock construction with traces of polychrome
Eliza S. Paine Fund
Kannon, a symbol of Buddhist wisdom and compassion, is a bodhisattva, or an enlightened deity who is said to remain in this world to help mankind find salvation. Some two hundred years after the introduction of Buddhism to Japan from the Asian mainland in the mid-sixth century A.D., sculpture developed in response to the doctrinal needs of the many sects that spread throughout the country. The eleven-headed Kannon became the focus of a major cult, when as part of the popularization of the faith, rites of repentance were carried out before images of this type. Kannon is associated with the worship of Amida Buddha, whose image stands in front of the small heads on the statue.
Both hands of the bodhisattva are missing; the left one may have made a gesture of devotion, while the right held a vase with a lotus, an attribute of this deity. Although it was meant to be seen frontally, standing on an altar platform, the sculpture is carved in the round. Fashioned primarily from a single large log, the figure was hollowed out slightly to hold polished stones- symbolic relics of the Buddha- and documents concerning the history of the piece. The image is like other sculptures of the early Heian period (A.D. 794-894) in its somber heavy proportions, frontal symmetry, and simplified anatomy and drapery.