Rare Gilded Bronze Reclining Buddha
Shan States, Eastern Burma
circa 17th century
length: 61cm, depth: 23cm
This large and exquisitely crowned and jewelled Ava-style Buddha is of a form we have not encountered before. Certainly no similar example appears to have been published. It bares similarities with a rare post-Pagan period gilded bronze Buddha seated in bhumisparsamudra in the British Museum ascribed to ‘perhaps’ the 17th century, described as ‘remarkable’, and acquired by the BM in 1894 (Green & Blurton, 2002, p. 57, but also see
, where the image is ascribed to the ’17th-18th century’). If anything, our example is more remarkable and rarer.
Of gilded cast bronze, the example here shows the Buddha reclining on an oval dais that has sides of lotus petals. The Buddha is propped up on cushions and holds in his right hand a small conch, and what appears to be a myrobalan fruit in his left hand. (It might also be a
cintamani or ‘good luck’ jewel.) He is dressed in royal attire (so is of the Jambupati type). He has copious jewellery and elongated earlobes befitting his princely status and an elaborate crown with a tall, staff like unisa surrounded by tall, pointed ‘arches’. These leaf-like elements are based on eastern Indian prototypes. Flaring, pierced ‘wings’ are attached to the beaded headband of the crown. These provide almost a halo for the Buddha and are unique to Shan-Burmese depictions of the Buddha, and have their origins in the lateral Pala-style ribbons that prior to the Ava period were used to secure headdresses to Buddha images (Fraser-Lu & Stadtner, 2015, p. 154).
Like the BM example, the Buddha here wears two necklaces, one that curves around the nipples, and another that curves down and almost reaches the groin. The longer one is decorated with petal-like pendants. And also like the BM example, the ears are pierced with plug earrings that have tassels that flow down over the shoulders towards the chest.
The form of this depiction of the Buddha is particularly youthful, somewhat languid, and almost feminine. The fingers are long and fine. The face is particularly delicate and well modelled. The facial features – the slanting eyes, the high eyebrows and the small mouth – are typical of Shan depictions of the Buddha.
The myrobalan fruit (
terminalia chebula) is said to have been presented to the Buddha by the god Indra to restore his digestion after his long period of meditation beneath the bodhi tree.
The interior of the base is marked in red pigment with an inscription in Burmese.
The image is in fine condition. There are old casting cracks to the base – these are stable. There is some instability and cracking to one of the ‘wings’ that emerges from the band near the crown but this is typical in these types of Shan images (indeed, often a part of the ‘wing’ is missing altogether). Importantly, the image is complete. Overall, it has great sculptural presence and obvious age.
Fraser-Lu, S., & D.M. Stadtner, Buddhist Art of Myanmar, Asia Society Museum, 2015.
Green, A., & T.R. Blurton (eds.),
Burma: Art and Archaeology, The British Museum Press, 2002.
Burmese Buddhist Sculpture: The Johan Moger Collection, White Lotus, 1991.
Myanmar Buddha: The Image and its History, Siam International Books Company, 2007.
UK art market; apparently acquired by the father of the previous (UK-based) owner in Burma in the 1950s and 1960s.
Inventory no.: 3700
The interior of the base, with an inscription in Burmese script.