Bodhisattva, White Avalokiteshvara (Amoghapasha Lokeshvara)

14th century, Malla dynasty, Early Malla period, Nepal. Polychromed woodH: 162.5 W: 96.0 D: 37.0 cm. Purchase - Friends of the Freer and Sackler Galleries and Sigrid and Vinton Cerf, F2000.5

Standing poised in the elegant tribhanga (triple-bent) pose, White Avalokiteshvara (literally, The Lord Who Looks down from on High) is a popular guardian deity of the Kathmandu Valley of the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal, and pious Buddhists perform a special puja (ritual worship) to him each month. The beauty of the oval face, the sinuous lines of the torso, and the deft addition of paint make a significant statement about the achievement of Himalayan art. The image, which would have been honored within the shrine of a Buddhist monastery, is in exceptional condition considering that as a consecrated figure (X-rays reveal the insertion of a variety of metal objects and prayers that empower it), it frequently received ritual baths.

Carved from a single large piece of wood, the image testifies to Nepalese skill in woodcarving. The wood is from the shal tree (shorea robusta), a tropical hardwood highly resistant to decay and insect damage, and therefore favored by sculptors. Artists covered the figure with a smooth layer of gesso (a fine, white plaster) and painted it in a variety of colors and patterns. Missing today is the inlay of precious stones, a Himalayan specialty, as well as two of the eight additional arms.

Freer Gallery of Art. Washington, DC. Photographed 12/2006.