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This large and particularly fine and naturalistic image of the Buddha has been cast in bronze or a copper alloy in the Mandalay style. The quality of the casting and the surface patina suggest it is an earlier version of the Mandalay style rather than a late 19th century model, which most extant examples are likely to be.
The image shows the Buddha seated in vajrasana, with his right hand gesturing to the earth in the bhumisparsa mudra position. Such a depiction is particularly characteristic of religious sculpture in Burma (Lowry, 1974). The posture, known as ‘calling the earth to witness’, represents the moment when the Buddha was seated in meditation under the Bodhi tree during the evening before his enlightenment. Mara asked him to name anyone who would give evidence that he had given alms, and the Buddha motioned to the earth with his right hand and said that the earth would bear witness to that – in a previous incarnation when he was known as Vessantara, he had given alms to such an extent that the earth had begun to quake.
The image shows the Buddha with a domed usnisha, and a head of tiny curls. He is seated on a low platform or socle and dressed in ample robes with naturalistic folds and pleating. Earlier images of the Buddha across Southeast Asia tended to show the monastic robes in a much more schematic way.
The eyes have been inlaid with a white material, usually described as mother-of-pearl, which in turn has been inlaid with black pupils – probably black lacquer.
The image is hollow cast using the lost wax technique and the interior retains some of the original core material used in the casting process. The hand that rests on the lap has been cast separately and soldered to the rest of the image.
As mentioned, most surviving Buddhas cast in the Mandalay style date to the second half of the 19th century but the patina and aged surface of this example suggests an earlier dating, possibly to the 18th century.
There is a small chip to the front edge of the base, but otherwise, the image is in fine condition. It has a dark chocolate patina. Overall, the image is tremendously sculptural and decorative: the flow of the robes and the face are particularly pleasing.
Fraser-Lu, S., Burmese Lacquerware, White Orchid Books, 2000.
Karow, O., Burmese Buddhist Sculpture: The Johan Moger Collection, White Lotus, 1991.
Lowry, J., Burmese Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1974.
McGill, F. (ed.), Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam and Burma, 1775-1950, Asian Art Museum, 2009.