Acuoye Guanyin, Royal Protector of the Dali Kingdom

Regina Krahl

Gilt-bronze Buddhist figures such as the present Avalokiteśhvara sculpture hold a unique place in the development of Chinese Buddhist sculptures. They are remarkable due to their independent idiosyncratic style, their grace and serenity, and their sheer size. What is known as Acuoye bodhisattvas are mostly standing figures of remarkable stylistic consistency. To find a seated sculpture is extremely rare and the present Guanyin appeals particularly due to its gentle, feminine facial features.

Figures of this type can be attributed to the southwestern part of China, today’s Yunnan province, a region that was independent for over 500 years, under the Nanzhao (750-902) and later the Dali (937-1253) kingdoms. Buddhism had been established as state religion by the last Nanzhao ruler, and at a time when the religion was facing multiple challenges in China’s heartland under the Song dynasty (960-1279), it flourished in China’s southwest – as it did in the northeast, under the Liao (907-1125).

When the Duan family came to power in Yunnan in 937, they pointedly used the religion to support the legitimacy of their rulership. They named their kingdom Dali, ‘Great Ruling Principle’, a term with Buddhist connotations, which they claimed had been selected for the kingdom by the bodhisattva Avalokiteśhvara himself. Azhali (or Ajali) Buddhism, a special form of Vajrayana Buddhism that seems unique to Yunnan, took hold in the region, with an Avalokiteśhvara cult, where this bodhisattva held greater significance than even the Buddha. According to John Guy, the straight frontal representation of these figures confirms their placement in a central position in a temple, rather than on either side of the Buddha, as was common for bodhisattva figures in the Tang (618-907), which are clearly depicted as supporting sculptures flanking a main image, with the body swaying and slightly turned (Guy 1994, p. 76).

Yunnanese gilt-bronze bodhisattva figures are distinctive through their physical characteristics of a very slender built with prominent shoulders, hands held in vitarka mudra and varada mudra, bejewelled necklace, armlets and single bracelet, simple dhoti, and high coiffure with an Amitābha Buddha figure in front, which identifies them as representations of Avalokiteśhvara. The style appears to have been clearly developed already at least by the 10th century. This bodhisattva type is depicted in the Nanzhao tuzhuan (Illustrated history of Nanzhao), a handscroll of 947 that copies an earlier version of 899, today preserved in the Fujii Yūrinkan, Kyoto. On this scroll, it is identified as Acuoye Guanyin, a Guanyin manifestation unique to Yunnan. Acuoye may be a transliteration of the Sanskrit term ajaya, meaning ‘all victorious’, or else the Sanscrit acarya, to refer to a spiritual teacher of Azhali teaching.

The scroll also depicts the legendary casting of such a sculpture out of a bronze drum, after a foreign monk who had performed various miracles, had disappeared into the air transformed into an Acuoye Guanyin. It depicts a large figure of a monk with an Avalokiteśhvara image emerging from his head, and shows two men seated in front, one working on a metal drum, the other holding a Guanyin sculpture, surrounded by metal-working utensils and a fire (Guy 1994, pp. 67-8, figs 2 and 3).

The handscroll also shows a monumental standing Acuoye Guanyin being venerated by Yunnanese royals (Guy 1994, p. 70, fig. 5). Such a monumental bronze sculpture, believed to have been eight meters tall, is reputed to have been held in the Chongsheng temple, the royal temple of the Dali kingdom, of which three pagodas are still standing near the old town of Dali, Yunnan. The figure is lost but may be reproduced in a hazy black-and-white photograph (Lutz 1991, p. 116, fig. 70). Although not very close to the Acuoye figures – and probably in a much-restored state – it already shows the same slender built and straight frontality of the later Yunnan figures, for which it is believed to have been a model.

fig. 1
Zhang Shengwen (fl. latter half of 12th century), Scroll of Buddhist Images, Dali Kingdom, handscroll, ink and colour on paper, detail; Taipei Palace Museum
大理國 張勝溫(活躍於十二世紀下半葉)《畫梵像》卷 設色紙本 局部 台北故宮博物院

The casting story is similarly depicted in another highly important handscroll, Fanxiang juan (Scroll of Buddhist Images) by the painter Zhang Shengwen (active 1163-89), now in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, in which one of the Dali kings, Duan Zhixing (r. 1172-1200) had himself and his courtiers portrayed in the 1170s (Guy 1994, p. 69, fig. 4). First published by Helen B. Chapin, who discovered and identified these figures already in the 1930s as ‘A Long Roll of Buddhist Images’, this scroll, one of the most important extant Dali works of art, depicts twenty different representations of Guanyin, among them a seated figure not unlike our sculpture (fig. 1), similarly dressed and wearing similar armlets, as well as a standing figure very similar to the usual standing gilt-bronze Acuoye figures.

The provenance, the dating and the royal status in the Dali kingdom of these Buddhist sculptures is confirmed by one closely related standing figure. An Acuoye Avalokiteśhvara in the San Diego Museum of Art, California, bears a long inscription on the back, which mentions another Dali ruler, Duan Zhengxing (r. 1147-72), as donor (Lutz 1991, no. 1) (fig. 2). Chapin, coined for these figures the term ‘Luck of Yunnan’, to indicate their function as lucky charms of the Dali kings (Chapin 1936-8 and 1944).

These figures were cast at a time when few contemporary gilt-bronze sculptures were created in China, except for those made in Liao territory. Stylistically, they are remarkably independent. Although the style is sometimes called ‘Indianized’ and stylistic influences from neighbouring southeast Asian countries have been pointed out (Guy 1994), the physique and iconography seems to have been developed very independently by local artisans and the dependence on other southeast or south Asian Buddhist images is not very close. Tests of the bronze itself have also shown that the metal alloy is very distinctive in composition.

Only two other Acuoye Guanyin figures seated in this pose appear to be recorded, one of similar size, but with hardly any gilding left, sold at Christie’s New York, 18th September 2003, lot 170; the other much smaller (18 cm), in a private collection, illustrated in Guy 1994, p. 75, fig. 10; a third figure in the Detroit Institute of Arts, also smaller (33 cm), is seated with both legs pendent, in the ‘European’ pose, in Guy 1994, p. 74, fig. 9. A larger number of standing Acuoye Guanyin figures are preserved, very similar in physique and attire. The most precious among them is a gold figure with silver mandorla discovered in the main pagoda of the Chongsheng Temple, now kept in the Yunnan Province Museum, Kunming (Lutz 1991, no. 56). More closely related are several standing gilt-bronze figures, similar to the figure in San Diego, for example, in the Yunnan Province Museum, Kunming, and in the Musée Guimet, Paris, included in the exhibition Der Goldschatz der drei Pagoden, Museum Rietberg, Zurich, and published in Lutz 1991, nos. 2 and 3, where two other figures in the Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. are illustrated, pls 48 and 49; a figure in the Metropolitan Museum of Art is illustrated in Denise Patry Leidy and Donna Strahan, Wisdom Embodied. Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2010, no. 32 and fig. 51; another in the British Museum in W. Zwalf, ed., Buddhism. Art and Faith, The British Museum, London, 1985, no. 297.

The figure comes from the collection of Nitta Muneichi (1912-2006), who was born in Taipei as Peng Kai-dong, but left Taipei for Japan as an adolescent and later took on a Japanese name. He became a highly successful businessman with a company covering a wide range of different industries. After the Second World War, he opened an antique shop on Ginza in Tokyo and in 1950 he began collecting Buddhist bronzes, which eventually became his main collecting interest. An exhibition of his collection was held at the National Palace Museum, Taipei in 1987 (The Crucible of Compassion and Wisdom). In 2003 he donated 358 Buddhist bronzes from East, Southeast and South Asia to the National Palace Museum, which exhibited them in 2004, including a similar standing Acuoye Avalokiteśhvara (The Casting of Religion. A Special Exhibition of Mr. Peng Kai-dong’s Donation, cat. no. 161). A further donation of 48 pieces was made after his death, and he also donated works to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Helen B. Chapin, ‘A Long Roll of Buddhist Images’, Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art, June and December 1936 and June 1938; revised edition by Alexander C. Soper in Artibus Asiae vol. 32, no. 1 (1970), pp. 4-41, 157-99, 259-306, and vol. 33 (1971), pp. 75-140

Helen B. Chapin, ‘Yünnanese Images of Avalokiteśvara’, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, vol. 8 (1944), pp. 131-86

John Guy, ‘The Avalokiteśvara of Yunnan and Some South East Asian Connections’, in Rosemary Scott and John Guy, eds, South East Asia and China: Art, Interaction and Commerce, Colloquies on Art and Archaeology in Asia, no. 17, Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, London 1994, pp. 64-83

Albert Lutz, Der Goldschatz der drei Pagoden. Buddhistische Kunst des Nanzhao- und Dali-Königreichs in Yunnan, China, Museum Rietberg, Zurich, 1991





937年,段氏入主雲南,以佛教立國之正統,國號「大理」亦有佛教淵源,據段氏傳說,為觀世音菩薩欽點。阿吒力教乃金剛乘佛教一支,為雲南獨有,又稱滇密,大理舉國信仰;滇密主奉觀世音,此菩薩地位尤甚於佛。John Guy 稱,此類造像直身正面,當居正中,而非侍立佛側;脅侍菩薩像多見於唐(618-907年),立於主尊左右,身姿稍有側傾(Guy,1994年,頁76)。

雲南鎏金銅菩薩造像風格鮮明,寬肩長軀,手結安慰印、予愿印,飾頸鏈、臂釧,單手戴鐲,腰布簡潔,束髮高聳,髻前一尊阿彌陀佛像,以明觀世音菩薩之身。十世紀或更早,這一風格便已形成。此類菩薩有載於《南詔圖傳》,見一947年手卷,乃臨899年原本所繪,現存京都藤井有鄰館;手卷名其曰阿嵯耶觀音,此觀音化現獨見於雲南 。阿嵯耶或由梵語 ajaya 音譯,意為「戰無不勝」,又或源於梵語 acarya,指代阿吒力軌範師。



張勝溫(活躍於1163-89年間)集成另一重要文獻《梵像卷》,對鑄像故事有相似描繪。卷本現存台北故宮博物院,有篇幅畫大理國皇帝段智興(1172-1200年在位)及廷臣(Guy,1994年,頁69,圖4),作於1170年後。1930年代,Helen B. Chapin 率先就《梵像卷》發表論著,以〈A Long Roll of Buddhist Images〉一文探討卷中造像及人物。《梵像卷》乃大理國藝術傳世瑰寶,繪有觀音化現二十身,各各不同,其中一身為坐像,與此尊如出一轍(圖一),衣著配飾無不相似,另有一身立像,則與一般鎏金銅阿嵯耶觀音像別無二致。

fig. 2
A gilt-bronze and lacquer 'All Victorious' Guanyin bodhisattva, Dali Kingdom, 1147-72 © San Diego Museum of Art / Museum purchase with funds provided by the Helen M. Towle Bequest / Bridgeman Images
1147-72年 大理國鎏金銅髹漆「諸勝」觀世音菩薩立像 © 聖地亞哥藝術博物館 以 Helen M. Towle 捐贈基金購藏 Bridgeman Images Bridgeman Images

此類大理國造像的來源、斷代及皇家背景,可在加州聖地亞哥美術館阿嵯耶觀音立像身上找到佐證(圖二)。該館藏例背後帶長銘文,指明供養人為大理國皇帝段正興(1147-72年在位)(Lutz,1991年,編號1)。Chapin 稱此類造像為「雲南福星」,以示造像法力能為大理國君作依怙(Chapin,1936-8及1944年)。


此尊之外,僅有兩尊半跏趺倚坐阿嵯耶觀音像見載,其一,尺寸相當,鎏金盡失,售於紐約佳士得2003年9月18日,編號170;其二,尺寸微小(18公分),私人收藏,見Guy,1994年,頁75,圖10;另一例,藏底特律美術館,仍小於此尊(33公分),雙足垂放,呈善跏趺坐,見Guy,1994年,頁74,圖9。阿嵯耶觀音立像存世數量較多,身形、服飾大同小異,其中一尊金身銀背光最為珍貴,崇聖寺主塔出,現藏昆明雲南省博物館(Lutz,1991年,編號56)。另有鎏金銅立像數例,與聖地亞哥例相類,如兩尊,分別藏於昆明雲南省博物館,及巴黎吉美博物館,曾展於蘇黎世萊特博格博物館之《Der Goldschatz der drei Pagoden》,見 Lutz,1991年,編號2、3,同書載錄兩尊,華盛頓弗利爾美術館藏,圖版48、49;再如一尊,大都會藝術博物館藏,錄於 Denise Patry Leidy、Donna Strahan,《Wisdom Embodied. Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art》,紐約,2010年,編號32、圖51;及一尊,大英博物館藏,收入 W. Zwalf 編,《Buddhism: Art and Faith》,大英博物館,倫敦,1985年,編號297。

此尊出自新田棟一(1912-2006年)寶蓄;新田棟一生於台北,華語原名彭楷棟,少年時離台赴日,後改用日文名。新田先生商業成就非凡,橫跨不同領域。二戰後,新田先生於東京銀座經營骨董店,自五十年代起收藏金銅佛造像,漸成專攻。1987年,台北故宮博物院為先生收藏舉辦《金銅佛造像特展》;2003年,台北故宮博物院獲先生惠贈358件金銅佛造像,涵蓋東亞、東南亞及南亞,翌年以展覽示人,其中一尊阿嵯耶觀音立像與此尊相似,見《法象威儀 : 彭楷棟先生捐贈文物特展》,編號161。先生逝後,又遺贈48件予台北故宮,另有數件入藏紐約大都會藝術博物館。

Helen B. Chapin,〈A Long Roll of Buddhist Images〉,《Journal of the Indian Society of Oriental Art》, 1936年6、12月及1938年6月;修訂版,Alexander C. Soper,《Artibus Asiae》,卷32,第1期(1970年),頁4-41、157-99、259-306,以及卷33(1971年),頁75-140

Helen B. Chapin,〈Yünnanese Images of Avalokitesvara〉,《Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies》,卷8(1944年),頁131-86

John Guy,〈The Avalokiteśvara of Yunnan and Some South East Asian Connections〉,Rosemary Scott 及 John Guy 編,《South East Asia and China: Art, Interaction and Commerce》,Colloquies on Art and Archaeology in Asia,第17期,大維德中國藝術基金會,倫敦,1994年,頁64-83

Albert Lutz,《Der Goldschatz der drei Pagoden. Buddhistische Kunst des Nanzhao- und Dali-Königreichs in Yunnan, China》,瑞特堡博物館,蘇黎世,1991年