Hair Embroidery of Avalokitesvara

The Palace Museum

The Palace Museum

This image of Avalokitesvara is embroidered with human hair on a damask (thin silk) ground with faint patterning. Outlined without color or shading, the image was embroidered using a tight, even stitch (called gunzhen, lit. "rolling needle") that is often used to create vivid imagery. Avalokitesvara is also known as the Goddess of Mercy when appearing in the female form. One of the Amitabha Triad (Xifang sansheng, lit. "Three Holinesses of the West"), Avalokitesvara appears on the left side of Amitabha. This bodhisattva has appeared in many different forms throughout art history. In this work of embroidery, she sits cross-legged with the sole of her foot facing upward. Her left arms rests on her knee, while her hand dangles in a natural, relaxed manner. A Buddhist poem is embroidered with hair above the image of the bodhisattva. The text recounts how the material world is like a vast sea of suffering, how Avalokitesvara is calm in the midst of the tumult, how purity can be found in a boiling cauldron, and how fragrance is found in the rain. The poet's signature is translated as "Written by Wang Xinzhan, a disciple from Guyang, in the xinwei year of the Kangxi reign". The bottom right corner is embroidered with a signature, translated as "Respectfully embroidered by Li Henan, a disciple from Zhushan, in the second month of the xinwei year”. The xinwei year was the thirtieth year (1691) of the Kangxi reign. In the poem quoted on this embroidery, the two opening characters posuo should have been written as suopo, which is a reference to the Buddhist concept of the world of suffering. This work is of the highest quality among the hair embroideries of the Qing dynasty.

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  • Title: Hair Embroidery of Avalokitesvara
  • Physical Dimensions: height: 68 cm, width: 35 cm
  • Type: textile
  • Medium: hair, silk
  • Dynasty: Kangxi reign (1662-1722), Qing dynasty (1644-1911)