Figure of Guanyin, carved rhinoceros horn, China, Ming dynasty, ca.1630. Height: 15.3 cm, Width: 17.2 cm at base. FE.13-1970. The Hon. Dame Ada McNaughton Bequest. © V&A Images.

Rhinoceros horn figure of Guanyin, standing turned slightly to her right and wearing a long robe among a sea of wave crests, arms draped with a scarf, held in her left hand downwards is an inverted bottle from which liquid pours into the water. Among the waves are carp, crayfish, ray, a crab, and a toad-like animal. The underside is hollow and its edge is carved with wave patterns. 

This graceful figure has been finely carved from rhinoceros horn and represents the 'compassionate' Bodhisattva Guanyin, also known as Avalokiteshvara. According to Buddhist teachings, a bodhisattva is a deity on the path to reaching Enlightenment. By this period (late Ming) Guanyin took on the aspect of an elegant lady in flowing robes. Here she is pouring from a bottle the sweet waters of salvation. Sea creatures swarm in the waves foaming over her bare feet.

Bibliographic References: Clunas, Craig. Chinese Carving. London: Sun Tree Publishing Ltd in association with the Victoria & Albert Museum, 1996. p. 42, fig. 42.

Note: Opinion of Jan Chapman 12/09/90: made of East Asian horn. Style suggests a date just post-Wanli, i.e. circa 1630. Cf. a very similar figure in the Fogg Museum.