The Bodhisattva Guanyin, a beautiful near-life-size figure, was a recent gift from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Made in China during the Ming period (early 15th–early 17th centuries), the sculpture made its journey from the Duke estate to the Walters 19th-century galleries, where it received treatment by the conservation department prior to going on view in the Hackerman House.
Walters conservators have made some interesting discoveries about the piece. First of all, it is made using a hollow dry-lacquer technique, a layering technique similar to papier maché, but using Asian lacquer derived from tree sap. Cloth soaked in lacquer was used to model the initial form of the sculpture. Then layers of lacquer bulked with successively finer material were added to smooth the surface for eventual gilding. Beneath the gilding, red lacquer tinted with cinnabar, an ancient Chinese pigment, derived from mercuric sulphide, shines through. Now black overall, the hair was originally painted blue, and special attention was also given to his face, which was gilded as many as five times.
Care was taken to stabilize areas of lacquer that are now detached from the cloth and the surface was cleaned of years of accumulated grime that dulls the once lustrous surface.