Bronze Image of Prajna Paramita with Traces of Gilding
Bayon Style, Angkor Period, Cambodia
circa 12th century
height without stand: 19cm, height with stand: 24.2cm
This detailed image of Prajna Paramita, the Buddhist goddess of transcendent wisdom and one of the most important figures in Mahayana Buddhism, shows the goddess with a long shirt or sampot with fishtail pleating in front secured by an elaborate belt. Her chignon is arranged as a crown with a single finial, evocative perhaps of Mount Meru, the mythical abode of the gods. The image retains traces of gilding and at one stage is likely to have been entirely covered with gold leaf or was gold plated.
The face has been cast with typically Bayon features: a unified, curved brow line; slanted eyes; and generous, full lips. She expresses the supreme bliss that comes from the attainment of perfect wisdom. Her sublime expression helps to convey a sense of mystic divinity. The casting of the face accords with the personality cult that developed during the reign of Jayavarman VII in the late twelfth century when real individuals began to be depicted as Buddhist deities, breaking all the norms of Buddhist iconography.
She wears several necklaces, bracelets, upper arm ornaments and long, elaborate earrings. Such extravagant jewellery and elaborate dress also is typical of the Bayon style.
Depicted in a standing posture on a rectangular base, Prajna Paramita holds a book to symbolises wisdom, in her left hand. Her right hand holds the blue lotus to symbolise purity and spiritual elevation.
The sacking of Angkor in 1177 lead to such iconographic innovations under Jayavarman VII. The new ruler was a practicing Buddhist and for the first time in Khmer history, Buddhism became the state religion. There was a movement too towards a more potent theology that incorporated esoteric Buddhist and Tantric elements and cosmic symbolism designed to protect the empire in the art and architecture of the period. An ambitious building program was commenced and the Preah Khan, Angkor Thom and Bayon temple complexes were constructed. Large quantities of statues in stone and bronze were produced to decorate the new public buildings. (Many were despoiled by Jayavarman VII’s Shivaite successor Jayavarman VIII.)
An image of the Buddha, seated and sheltered by naga hoods, the most popular type of Buddha image during this period, was located in the central shrine of the Bayon Temple. The other important images of this period were Lokesvara (Lord of the World and also known as Avalokiteshvara), a form of Bodhisattva, Occasionally, the trio was shown incorporated into the one image group. It is possible that this image was part of one such image group. (See Ibbitson Jessup, 2006, p. 9, for such a group that is in the National Museum of Cambodia’s collection.)
This image has a varying, mottled silvery-green patina all over.
Overall, this image is a fine example. It has a good three-dimensional quality.
The image is secured to a custom-made stand with tapering sides. (The stand has been with the statue for quite some time and has some minor chips.)
Albanese, M., Angkor: Splendors of the Khmer Civilisation, White Star, 2006.
Brand, M., & C. Phoeurn,
The Age of Angkor: Treasures from the National Museum of Cambodia, Australian National Gallery,1992.
Bunker E.C. & D. Latchford,
Adoration and Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art, Art Media Resources, 2004.
Angkor and the Khmer Civilization, Thames & Hudson, 2004.
Cort, L.A. & P. Jett,
Gods of Angkor, Bronzes from the National Museum of Cambodia, Smithsonian Institution, 2010.
Ibbitson Jessup, H.,
Masterpieces of the National Museum of Cambodia, Friends of Khmer Culture, 2006.
Angkor: Cambodia’s Wondrous Khmer Temples, Odyssey, 2011.
Sacred Angkor: The Carved Reliefs of Angkor Wat, River Books, 2003.
Zefferys, M.L., N.S. Zefferys & J. Stone,
Heaven and Empire: Khmer Bronzes from the 9th to the 15th Centuries, White Lotus, 2001.
from a private collection, Hereford, England. Acquired by the previous owner from a private collection, Gloucestershire, England.
Inventory no.: 3703