Early, Repoussed High-Grade Silver Bowl
diameter: 25cm, height: 17.8cm, weight: 1,338g
This fine Burmese bowl (thabeik) shows an epic battle scene involving soldiers on horse and elephant back fighting with long dhas. Another scene shows a traditional bullock-drawn cart and a woman in traditional noble Burmese dress – perhaps the object of the battle.
Possibly the bowl shows a battle scene depicting King Anawrahta, the first king of all Burma (reigned 1044-77), who introduced his people to Theravada Buddhism. His capital at Pagan (Bagan) on the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwaddy) River became a prominent city of pagodas and temples. He is often depicted in Burmese artwork on horseback.
The fluidity and dynamism of the scene is complex and masterful. The horses and elephants are shown in profile and head on. Swords are drawn, standards held aloft, and at the centre, two duelling caparisoned elephants, each with two riders, one charging ahead and the other beginning the retreat. It is a fabulous scene.
Both the upper and lower borders are fine and conventional. The upper band of vegetal scrolling is raised in unusually high relief. The lower border comprises a wide band of repeated leaf motifs.
The base is unmarked.
Bowls such as these had no ceremonial or religious use; they are purely decorative. Their shape is supposedly based on Burmese monks’ begging or alms
bowls (one of the eight
parikkharas or possessions allowed a monk). In turn, such bowls are based on a bowl that the Buddha himself is said to have used. But although the shape of such bowls is based on the monk’s begging bowl, ironically, Burmese monks are prohibited from touching gold or silver. Accordingly,
Burmese silversmiths did not use their skills on religious objects unlike silversmiths in other Buddhist lands such as Tibet or Sri Lanka.
Overall, this bowl is a fine work of art. Importantly, it was acquired in the UK and most probably has been in the UK since the colonial era. It is without significant dents, splits or repairs but does have a number of small holes in the repousse work which is typical of such bowls where the silversmith has pushed the silver out in relief. There are small areas of solder that have been used to cover some of the holes. The bowl is in unusually high-grade silver. This and the way the bowl has been configured suggest that it is an earlier example of such a bowl. It has a good weight; it feels heavy in the hand.
Fraser-Lu, S., Silverware of South-East Asia, Oxford University Press, 1989.
Burmese Crafts: Past and Present, Oxford University Press, 1994.
The Silverwork of Burma (with Photographs by P. Klier), The Superintendent, Government Printing, 1902.
Modern Burmese Silverwork (with Photographs by P. Klier), The Superintendent, Government Printing, 1904.Provenance:
UK art market
Inventory no.: 3319