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Burmese Cast Bronze Figure of an Ascetic Elderly Man (One of the Buddha’s Four Omens)

19th century

height: 64cm



UK art market

This extraordinary figure of an elderly man was cast in bronze in 19th century Burma. It shows a thin, elderly man, hunched over and with his rib-cage showing. Barefooted, he wears a longyi around his waist and a topknot on his head. The longyi has been engraved with a checkered design. The curvature of the hermit’s body is pronounced – almost painful – but lends a beautiful, sculptural air to the image.

But the most extraordinary aspect of this image is the face of the man. It is wizened, quizzical and full of character, and a marvellous example of the heights to which Burmese lost-wax metal casting could achieve.

Almost certainly, the image is one of the Four Omens (also called the Four Sights) which the Buddha-to-be sees before he abandons his palace. The four sights are the things he sees which introduces him to the realities of suffering – he sees age, sickness, death, and a monk.

The image is attached to a separately cast bronze stand.

Unfortunately, the right hand of the image has been lost. This would have held a walking cane or stick that would have emerge from near the figure’s right foot. The man’s eyes are of wax or shell to provide a whites and black pupils, although the detail of the left eye is now missing. Despite these old losses, the image is still a fine and rare example.

A similar but wooden image is illustrated in Somkiart Lopetcharat (2007).


pers. comm. Don Stadtner, October 2014.

Somkiart Lopetcharat, Myanmar Buddha: The Image and its History, Siam International Books Company, 2007.

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