Crouching Nat Figure in Gilded Lacquer
Burma, probably Mandalay
circa mid-19th century
height: 46.5cm, width: 35cm, depth: 33cm
This figure is of gilded and polychrome lacquered carved wood with applied cut-out winged metal ornamentation. The figure’s dress is richly adorned with thayo work whereby lacquer putty is used to decorate the surface with fine ridges and extrusions and inset with red, green and silver foil-backed glass spangles. He wears a tall, pointed crown. His right hand is raised with index finger pointing: he appears to be teaching or making a point. He sits with his bare feet pointing backwards. His toes, like his fingers and facial features, are finely rendered and naturalistically coloured.
The figure has a delicate, pleasing face; an expressive posture; and sculptural dynamism on account of the vibrant winged costume.
Probably this figure was commissioned to adorn a large shrine (
hpaya khan). A similar figure adorns the spectacular shrine on display in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum. Lowry (1974) suggests the figure is either one of the Indian deities Brahma or Indra (Sakka), both of whom play a role in the life of the Buddha. Or the figure might be an unidentified nat. The V&A figure holds aloft a European-style glass lamp in his hands. The figure here was similarly designed to hold something – his left hand is curled to support a rod which could have been inserted into a small hole in the platform on which the figure sits and which is obscured by the costume wing that emanates from the left knee.
The condition of this item is remarkably good for its age and the materials from which it has been made. There is some flaking to the polychrome applied to the face, hands and feet; some losses here and there to the inset glass spangles; one of the tow cut glass or stone earrings is missing, and part of the lacquer to the winged ornament attached to the left arm is no longer present and has been over-painted with gold paint to mask the loss. Otherwise, the figure and its decoration is robust and intact.
Isaacs, R., & T.R. Blurton, Burma and the Art of Lacquer, River Books, 2000.
Burmese Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1974.
Myanmar Buddha: The Image and its History, Siam International Books Company, 2007.
UK art market
Inventory no.: 1791
The Burmese gilded shrine in the Victoria & Albert Museum, and showing the nat-like figure described above.