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WAM Updates are short, informal posts that put the spotlight on small, but exciting, Museum-related projects, such as the addition of a new painting or sculpture to a gallery. They also serve as updates on staff, new services or programs, and other WAM news.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Happy Year of the Monkey!

Happy Year of the Monkey! To help contribute to the wealth of monkey images online for this Lunar New Year here is the museum’s 10th-13th century Chinese sculpture, Guanyin Seated in a Grotto, depicting the Monkey King story. The Monkey King is a mischievous and highly popular character in China ever since the publication of the classic novel Journey to the West in the 1590s in which he plays the protagonist.

Based on a real pilgrimage in the early 600s by a Chinese Buddhist monk named Xuanzang, who travelled to India to find and bring back Buddhist scriptures, in Journey to the West the Monkey King accompanies Xuanzang on his quest. The top portion of this sculpture depicts the Monkey King with the monk and a horse. Below them the Buddhist deity of compassion, Guanyin, sits atop her lotus throne encircled by a dragon. Guanyin served as their guardian on the trip, often offering divine intervention.

This sculpture, one of the earliest depictions of the tale of the Monkey King made centuries before it became a popular novel, has also recently inspired new research. After viewing WAM’s Guanyin Seated in a Grotto, Dr. Ji Hao, a professor of Chinese language and literature at the College of the Holy Cross, began studying other artistic representations of the Monkey King story. We look forward to learning more about this rich piece from his findings.

Welcome in the Year of the Monkey by looking for this Monkey King-inspired piece currently on view during your next visit to WAM.

Above: Guanyin Seated in a Grotto, late Song Dynasty (960-1279), granite, greenish color, 59.7 cm (23 1/2 in.), Gift of Stephan Bourgeois, 1933.9

See more Chinese Art

- Vivian Li, Assistant Curator, Asian Art

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