Bodhisattva (12th century)

Bodhisattvas are individuals filled with compassion who, rather than enter Nirvana after attaining enlightenment, remain in the life–death cycle to redeem other souls. While early Japanese Buddhist art displayed Chinese influences, from the Heian to Kamakura periods (794–1333) Japanese sculptures developed distinct characteristics, including gentle facial features with long, arched eyebrows extending to a thin nose, downcast eyes and small lips, evident in this Shō Kannon Bosatsu. The figure, standing on a lotus flower, is surrounded by a halo of swirling lotus plant motifs (karakusa). In Buddhism the lotus represents the true nature of humans, who rise through day-to-day mortality to emerge into the beauty of enlightenment. At the top of the halo is a disc inscribed with the Sanskrit character ‘Sa’ that refers to saintly, sacred and virtuous qualities, and that designates this figure as Shō Kannon Bosatsu.