There’s something about the museum’s wooden Guanyin sculpture that demands reverence, even from members of our staff who see it on a daily basis. It is a commanding presence in a room filled with Buddhist masterpieces from throughout Asia, so when teacher liaison Jenny Engle poses for a picture in front of the sculpture—her staff pick—it’s no surprise that she appears to be aware of a gaze upon her as she cautiously inches closer to it.

“I’ve always been drawn to our sculpture of Guanyin,” says Engle. “As the Bodhisattva of Compassion, our Guanyin, in posture and expression is both casual and confident–which I’ve always interpreted as a calming, focused presence.”

Discovering Guanyin in the Buddhism gallery when she started working at the museum in 2001 “was like meeting an old friend in an unexpected place,” says Engle. “Having just come from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, which has a similar sculpture in its collection—also made of wood, it sits in the same posture of “royal ease”—I was strangely comforted by the familiar deity. Recently, I used our Guanyin in a looking activity with a group of teachers. I was surprised by one teacher’s interpretation, which was that Guanyin was an intimidating figure, giving her a scolding look of disapproval. This was a good reminder that we all see things differently; it’s one thing I love about art.”

Anonymous
Guanyin (Bodhisattva) c. 1025
Painted Wood
Purchase 1927