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Maternal-Style Maria Kannons

Dehua Kilns Maria Kannon

Dehua Kilns Maria Kannon

Most Maria Kannon images were not produced in Japan because of the severe punishment for creating illegal Christian items. Japanese Christians imported numerous white ceramic and ivory Maria Kannon statues from Fujian Province in southern China, also a dangerous endeavor. Kilns, such as the one in Dehua County that created this statue, produced images of Guanyin (觀音, the Chinese reading of Avalokiteśvara) and the Madonna for underground Christian, European, Filipino, and Buddhist customers.[1]


[1] Chelsea Foxwell, “‘Merciful Mother Kannon’ and Its Audiences,” The Art Bulletin 92, no. 4 (December 1, 2010), 331.

Maria Kannon

Maria Kannon

A majority of Maria Kannon have stylistic similarities to White-Robbed Kannon (白衣観音, Byakue Kannon), one of the thirty-three manifestations of Kannon, which wears a hooded white robe, has its hair combed upward, and usually holds a willow or lotus branch. White-Robbed Kannon typically have an androgynous appearance but this manifestation of Kannon is sometimes associated with the ability to grant children, especially male heirs. The similar appearance of White-Robbed Guanyin and Madonna iconography led in part to the development of Marian Guanyin images.[1]


[1] Marsha Smith Weidner, Patricia Ann Berger, Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art, and Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. Latter Days of the Law : Images of Chinese Buddhism, 850-1850. (Lawrence, KS: Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas ; Honolulu, Hawaii, 1994), 169-170, 172-173.

Nagasaki Maria Kannon (Komori)

Nagasaki Maria Kannon (Komori)

This statue of Komori Kannon, like many other Maria Kannon statues worshipped by underground Christians, has feminine facial features and holds an infant. Feminized adaptations of Guanyin arose in 15th-century China due to the popularity of values such as filial piety and chastity.[1] After the introduction of Madonna and Child images by Christian missionaries in China, images of Sòngzi Guanyin (Child-Granting Guanyin) dispersed throughout the country and travelled abroad.[2] This association between Maria and Avalokitesvara/Kannon continued in Japan prior to the illegalization of Christianity, when icons of the Madonna were made to resemble Kannon.[3]


[1] Marsha Smith Weidner, Patricia Ann Berger, Helen Foresman Spencer Museum of Art, and Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. Latter Days of the Law : Images of Chinese Buddhism, 850-1850. (Lawrence, KS: Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas ; Honolulu, Hawaii, 1994), 160.

[2] Chelsea Foxwell, “‘Merciful Mother Kannon’ and Its Audiences,” The Art Bulletin 92, no. 4 (December 1, 2010), 330.

[3] Junhyoung Michael Shin, “Avalokiteśvara’s Manifestation as the Virgin Mary: The Jesuit Adaptation and the Visual Conflation in Japanese Catholicism after 1614,” Church History 80, no. 1 (March 1, 2011), 13.

Maria Kannon

Maria Kannon

The artisan who sculpted this Maria Kannon portrayed the deity sitting with a child in a symmetrical shape. The lines defining her face and folds of her robe on her right and left sides mirror one another. While her right foot rests in front of her left one, they do not interrupt the rest of the composition’s symmetry. 

Ryusenji Temple Koyasu Kannon

Ryusenji Temple Koyasu Kannon

In 1928, this icon of Koyasu Kannon was discovered in Ryusenji Temple in Yamagata Prefecture, which is in the northern part of Japan’s main island Honshu. Even though scholars originally deemed the icon a Maria Kannon, whether or not it is one is disputed. It may belong to the group of Kannon with child images that do not have a Christian association. On the other hand, the cloud-shaped halo surrounding the bodhisattva resembles the ones used in Japanese-cast medallions of the Virgin Mary worshipped by underground Christians.[1] This statue is one of many examples of how Buddhist temples incorporated underground Christian iconography into their space.



[1] Yoshikazu Uchiyama and Teiji Chizawa, Kirishitan no bijutsu (Hōbunkan ; 1961), 185-186.

Oura Maria Kannon

Oura Maria Kannon

Underground Christians originally imported this Maria Kannon from Fujian Province, China[1] and it currently belongs to Oura Cathedral (1865), the first church in Japan consecrated by European missionaries after their banishment from the country.[2] This Maria Kannon has abbreviated facial features and the child on her lap is similarly defined by few details. A corner of the throne on which Maria Kannon sits has broken off, but one cannot say whether or not it was broken intentionally or accidentally.


[1] Junhyoung Michael Shin, “Avalokiteśvara’s Manifestation as the Virgin Mary: The Jesuit Adaptation and the Visual Conflation in Japanese Catholicism after 1614,” Church History 80, no. 1 (March 1, 2011), 21.

[2] Stephen R. Turnbull, The Kakure Kirishitan of Japan : A Study of Their Development, Beliefs and Rituals to the Present Day (Japan Library, 1998), 50.

Aizu Jibo Daikannon

Jibo Kannon

The Aizu Jibo Daikannon, erected in 1987, towers at a monumental 57 meters (187 ft.) in Aizu Park in Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima, Japan. While the statue’s status as a Maria Kannon is debatable, the robe she wears and the infant she holds aligns this contemporary image with the older heritage of Komori, Koyasu, and Maria Kannon images. 6,000 small gold Kannon statues are enshrined inside the hollowed out Jibo Kannon,[1] endowing the larger statue with their compassion and salvific abilities.


[1] Aizu Mura (Aizu Park), 2014, "Aizu jibo daikannon to rokuman tsubo no daiteien (Aizu Large Jibo Kannon and 60,000 Meter Park)," Shukyohojin hokunitera Aizu betsuin (Aizu Branch of Hokunitera Religious Organization), accessed May 21, 2015. http://aizumura.jp/shisetsu.html.; Selena Hoy, 2013, "Aizu Jibo Dai Kannon-Fukushima-Japan Travel," Japan Travel, accessed May 21, 2015, http://en.japantravel.com/view/aizu-dai-jibo-kannon.