The iconography of this bodhisattva is unique to Nanzhao (ca. 653–902) and the Kingdom of Dali (937–1254) in Yunnan. This iconography developed in close association with the court’s strong Buddhist faith. Consultation of icons in the Scroll of Buddhist Images in our collection suggests that this figure is Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara Yizhang. The creation of this figure may have been inspired by Esoteric Buddhist classics, the idea being to protect members of the court and guarantee them a life free from disease and accident.
The bodhisattva wears a foliate crown adorned with the Five Dhyani Buddhas. The long ear pendants are unique to the Dali region. The figure has a gentle smile and holds a flask with a branch in his left hand. Originally, the right hand also held an object. The figure is clad in elaborate costume and jewelry. In front of the abdomen is a round plaque with a triad and twin dragons, symbolizing imperial power. The iconography is almost identical to the tenth-century standing Guanyin in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts collection, in the United States. However, this statue’s style puts its creation at a slightly later date.