Ivory Tusk Carved with Multiple Buddhas
late 19th century
This magnificently carved antique tusk has been decorated over its entirety with 24 separate Buddhas seated in bhumisparsha mudra and within individual niches, as well as a single four-headed Buddha at the tip of the tusk. The niches are surrounded by petal and leafy columns and borders. The base of the tusk deeply carved with a wide leafy band bordered by rows of fine petals.
The carving is in excellent condition; there are no repairs, chips or losses. The ivory has a fine, honeyed patina consistent with age.
According to Tingley (2003, p. 88), ivory in Burma was boiled in a solution to make it soft prior to carving. The design was outlined in charcoal on the ivory, which was then chiselled, filed and polished. Most of the ivory used in Burma at this time was sourced from the Shan States. Typically, elephants were not killed for their ivory; they were too valuable alive to be used for transporting logs and other heavy items. Instead, most ivory used in Burma was from elephants that died naturally.
The gift of carved ivory was a particularly merit-filled donation for a temple or monastery.
Fraser-Lu, S., Burmese Crafts: Past and Present, Oxford University Press, 1994.
Doris Duke: The Southeast Asian Art Collection, The Foundation for Southeast Asian Art and Culture, 2003.
UK art market
Inventory no.: 2760
Essentially, no longer can antique ivory be imported into the United States even if its origins are in Asia and even if it is more than 100 years old. This is to protect elephants in Africa. However, ‘Sports-hunted trophy’ ivory from elephants freshly killed in Africa by US residents is permitted. (US legislation is not shaped necessarily by what is right but by who lobbies hardest. The hunting lobby lobbies harder than museum curators and antique collectors.) The tusk here is antique and has been fully worked. As such it can be legally imported into most countries other than the US. No CITES permit is required for shipping within Europe, but one will be required for shipping outside Europe. We can assist with that.
This colonial era oil painting by a Burmese artist shows a Burmese ivory carver at work (gallery collection).