E0387: Figurine


Classification Category:
8:Communication Artifacts ➞ Art/Folk Art
clay ➔ ceramic ➔ porcelain
13 cm L
5.5 cm W
4.3 cm H
Provenance of Object:
This object is likely of Chinese origin. This is firstly based on the fact that the object is specifically identified Guanyin in the original lab report. Gaunyin, although a consistent figure across many forms of Buddhism, goes by a number of different monikers as well. She, in a male form, is also known as Avalokitesvara in her Theravada Buddhist roots and as Kannon in Japanese Buddhist traditions. Guanyin in her Chinese identity is also specifically recognized by the simple white robe she wears, a garment meant to symbolize the purity of her being and distinguish her from her male predecessor. There is also the fact that this figurine appears to be made out of porcelain, a crafting material first mastered by the Chinese. This specific style of porcelain further indicates the origin of the statue as well. An initial search for images of porcelain works most commonly shows works that fall more into the "fine china" designation. However, further narrowing the search specifically to porcelain portrayals of Guanyin reveals a trend more closely related to the statue in Luther's possession. "Blanc de Chine" porcelain- literally meaning "white from China"- was a specific style of porcelain which began to be crafted in the late Ming Dynasty. Multiple articles with images of museum collections with "Blanc de Chine" pieces showed many different pure white porcelain Guanyin statues. Although the art form eventually expanded to to other regions, "Blanc de Chine" was long unique to the style instead of a mass-produced knock-off, this could indicate that Dehua county was this statue's home. (Hist361) This object was held in the museum that Luther College started in 1877. This museum eventually grew into the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, and following this, non-Norwegian American ethnographic objects were returned to Luther and accessioned into the college’s Anthropology Collection. Without additional documentation, was likely obtained by the Luther College Museum (later the Norwegian-American Museum) between the late 19th century and early 20th century.
Ethnic Group:
Asian ➞ Chinese
Production Date:
This "Blanc de Chine" style began at the tail-end of the Ming Dynasty in the late 17th century. However, unless this piece is an early product of the art form- and the amount of detail and overall polished look of the piece seem to indicate otherwise- it is likely the Guanyin statue came from a later date. many of the art collections I looked at noted their Guanyin statues as being from the 18th century. As far as I can tell then, Luther's statue is from the same era. (Hist361)
This statue was likely intended to serve as a religious idol in home use. Although Buddhists are instructed not to specifically worship images of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and other religious figures, Buddhists do seek strength and support from them. Guanyin in particular is known for coming to the attention of those who seek her help and is a highly popular Bodhisattva, so it makes sense that a home would have an image of her. An image of Guanyin might also be present in a temple, but they typically had both the space and resources to afford to keep large stone statues. (Hist361)
Source Locality:
Chinese porcelain figure of a robed man or woman, sitting on some type of plant/leaves.
Related Collections
Accession: 1996.ETHN62, 1/1/96 Donated by: Unknown (1996.ETHN62)