This exceptional, life-size figure likely represents Avalokitesvara (Guanyin in Chinese) the most popular and benevolent of all bodhisattvas. The powerful figure is shown in princely guise, with long hair gathered up into an elaborate coiffure behind a crown and splendidly attired in sumptuous silk scarves and jewelry. The restraint and emphasis on abstract form and line of earlier eras is here replaced by a marked interest in movement and naturalism. Particularly noteworthy is the sensitive, almost portrait-like carving of the face.
A very similar wood standing figure of a bodhisattva of comparable size and dated to the Jin dynasty in the Philadelphia Museum of Art is illustrated by Sun Di, ed., Comprehensive Illustrated Catalogue of Chinese Buddhist Sculptures in Overseas Collections, vol. 7, Beijing, 2005, p. 1367. The pose, the robust body, the rendering of the scarves and other drapery are all very similar. See, also, the larger (243.8 cm. high) figure of a bodhisattva dated to the Jin dynasty with very similarly rendered drapery and scarves in The Royal Ontario Museum illustrated ibid., p. 1362, and the figure of a bodhisattva in stone identified as Tianwang Pusa in the Zhengzhou City Museum illustrated by M. L. Gridley, Chinese Buddhist Sculpture Under the Liao, New Dehli, 1993, pl. 39, no. 61.
A pair of carved wood figures of Guanyin also bearing very similarly rendered drapery, but lacking the long scarves draped in front of the body in U-shapes, and with thick gesso and painted surface, is in the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, and illustrated in Homage to Heaven, Homage to Earth: Chinese Treasures of the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, 1992, p. 179, nos. 104-5. Like the present figure, one of the Royal Ontario bodhisattvas is shown wearing a belt that may be imitating gilded jade or gold plaques. This same figure also bears an inscription dated to the sixth year of Mingchang in the Jin dynasty (AD 1195, during the reign of the Jin emperor Zhangzong). The inscription, written on a wood board that covers a rectangular opening in the back, places the origin of these sculptures in present-day Linfen County, Shanxi province.
Other polychrome wood figures of bodhisattvas of this approximate date and with similar drapery include the figure dated to the Jin dynasty in The Cleveland Museum of Art illustrated in Hai-wai Yi-chen: Chinese Art in Overseas Collections, Buddhist Sculpture, Taipei, 1986, no. 135, and the very similar figure sold in these rooms, 19 September 2006, lot 136.