© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Identification and Creation
Object Number
Willow-Branch Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara (Kwanseûm Posal) Seated in a Paradise Garden
Other Titles
Alternate Title: Gwanse'eum Bosal
Work Type
painting, hanging scroll
14th century
Creation Place: East Asia, Korea
Koryŏ dynasty, 918-1392
Physical Descriptions
Hanging scroll; ink, color, and gold pigment on silk
painting proper: H. 159.6 x W. 82.5 cm (62 13/16 x 32 1/2 in.)
mounting, including cord and roller ends: H. 274.3 x W. 114.3 cm (108 x 45 in.)
Grenville L. Winthrop, New York (by 1937-1943), bequest; to Fogg Art Museum, 1943.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Bequest of Grenville L. Winthrop
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Label Text: 32Q: 2740 Buddhist II , written 2014
This work, one of the largest extant paintings from the Koryŏ dynasty (918–1392), shows the encounter between Sudhana, a pious youth, and Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. The bamboo and fantastic rocks — rendered in gold, azurite, and malachite — evoke the setting on the island of Potalaka, Avalokiteshvara’s semi-divine paradisiacal home, which East Asian Buddhists identified with specific islands off the coasts of China, Korea, and Japan. This manifestation of the deity is termed the Willow-Branch Avalokiteshvara because of the branch in the vase to the bodhisattva’s left. The willow (which contains salicin, a chemical compound related to aspirin) was considered by Buddhists to be efficacious in purification and healing; here, it symbolizes the bodhisattva’s vow to cure illness. While this deity was worshipped throughout East Asia, the Koryŏ origins of this work are revealed particularly in its depiction of multiple layers of sumptuous, opaque robes veiled by a diaphanous silk shroud embroidered with gold roundels.

Label Text: Buddhist Art: The Later Tradition (1993) , written 1993
This large scroll depicts Kwanŭm Posal (Sanskrit, Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara; Chinese, Kuan-yin P’u-sa) sitting on a rock in a garden, attended by Sudhana, seen in the lower left corner. One of the thirty-three manifestations of Kwanŭm, this iconographic type is known as the “Willow Branch Kwanŭm,” after the cut branch in the celadon-glazed kundika vessel to the left of the bodhisattva. (Buddhist texts relate that willow branches were considered efficacious in healing various human ailments.) Images of this iconographic type appeared in China in the T’ang dynasty (618-907) and gained currency during the Sung (960—1279). Such gentle and serene depictions of the Bodhisattva of Compassion found widespread popularity in Korea during the Koryŏ period. When acquired in 1943, this painting was believed to have been done in Japan during the Muromachi period (13922—1568). An inscription on its Japanese lacquered storage box attributes the scroll to the eighth-century Chinese painter Wu Tao-tzu, implying that earlier generations of Japanese connoisseurs thought it to be Chinese. Recent research on Korean painting now allows us to assign it to Korea. Korean characteristics include the abundant use of gold pigment—in contrast to cut gold-leaf, or kirikane, which was more popular in China and Japan—and the elaborate decorative motifs on the robes, especially the roundels in the diaphanous veil that often find parallels in the designs on inlaid celadon vessels.

Publication History

James Cuno, Harvard's Art Museums: 100 Years of Collecting, Harvard University Art Museums/Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (Cambridge, MA, 1996), pp. 70-71

Marilyn Stokstad and Robert D. Mowry, Art History, Pearson Prentice Hall (Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2008), p. 370, fig. 10-30

Stephan Wolohojian, ed., Harvard Art Museum/ Handbook, Harvard Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 2008), p. 49

Dorinda Neave, Lara Blanchard, and Marika Sardar, Asian Art, Pearson Education, Inc. (Boston, MA, 2015), p. 252, ill. 11-12

Exhibition History

The Arts of Korea, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 07/11/1992 - 01/31/1993

Masterworks of East Asian Painting, Harvard University Art Museums, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 11/03/1995 - 06/09/1996

32Q: 2740 Buddhist II, Harvard Art Museums, 11/01/2014 - 05/21/2015

Subjects and Contexts

Collection Highlights

Google Art Project

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at am_asianmediterranean@harvard.edu