Chinese or Japanese? Glazed Kwan Yin

Started by tipton444, Dec 30, 2020, 01:00:27

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Hey guys,

I'd love to get your thoughts and opinions on this figure of Kwan Yin.  I first assumed it was Japanese because of the head cover that almost looks like a hat, which I thought was more typical for Japanese depictions of Kwan Yin, but lately I've seen quite a few with a similar cloth headdress that were labeled as Chinese.  The Kwan Yin kinda has a fatter face too.  So what are your thoughts? 

I can't seem to find anything else with this gold gilded and blue splash glaze, have you ever seen anything like it?  It appears to be old with wear, broken fingers, and finger prints on the base, but how old do you think it may be?




The interior (finger impressions) of hand made Chinese figurines do not look like this, normally. The finger impressions are on the walls, not the lowest area. Could be that these are from fitting the figurine on a separately made base, if they are at that height.
To me this looks as if the gilt has been retouched or painted later. The face is not typical for Japanese or Chinese figurines either, nor is the tone of gilt or the decoration itself hinting at either of them. Most likely the whole has been repainted or retouched, even the blue, because the hair is painted with the same blue as the cloth. The cloth would normally cover only the back of the head and top of the hair, not the whole of it.

BTW, are you sure it is fired clay and not gypsum or a similar material? If the figurine is fired, then it would likely be hollow, and if it is hollow then there must be one or more holes somewhere in the figurine, e.g. in the ears or elsewhere. If there are none then this is probably not porcelain or ceramic material; any firing would cause a closed figure to burst when the hot air inside expands.


Thanks for the help Peter, you have pointed out some very interesting things. 

I had to double check it and look for a hole, and I found it right above the base area on the left side where the robe flairs out.  I looked at it closely again, and it is definitely a ceramic item, and the top part is hollow (yet still pretty thick and solid).  I was a bit perplexed by the base and fingerprints myself, and you are right you usually see older porcelain figures without a base.  Does this mean the base was made after the top of the figure was fired, or would they be able to do it together because of the hole in the robe?  At first I thought the indents of the fingerprints were made to deceive, but upon closer look they are definitely legit, I'm just not sure what the purpose was of this look and design underneath. 

The thought that it could be repainted is an interesting one.  Maybe it's just newer and something we are just not used to seeing. 

So what is the difference between Chinese and Japanese Kwan Yin's with regards to the cloth?  Is there a difference?  Or was the person who told me there was a difference  just wrong? 


I don't think there is that much of a difference. regarding that head cloth. I would not pay too much attention to that. There are many different configurations of Guanyin figurines in both places as many of these in Japan may relate to those in China. Some ceremonial robes worn by monks, the shoes and Buddha figurines in temples in Japan still resemble those of Tang dynasty China. Others may be newer. Guanyin was originally depicted as a male bodhisattva, in China it changed gradually to a female one. You can find this also in some older Chinese versions, but probably not in Japan.
What I noted as something not typical for either Japan or China is the facial expression, and especially the shape of the lips.

The difference comes more from the workmanship, the material used, and the base difference. Most likely in this case base and figurine were made separately and then fit together.


Great info, thank you again for the help!  Glad to hear about the head cloth, hearing that from someone else really had me perplexed for a bit when looking at different Guanyin's.  After you replied I watched a video on the restoration of a Song Dynasty Guanyin at the MFA in New York, and they were also explaining how Guanyin was originally depicted as a male bodhisattva, and some of the different appearances it took on through its life...pretty interesting, happy to have learned a few things, thanks for explaining.  Happy New Year!