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This small silver Burmese bowl is extraordinary for the amount of work and detail that has gone into such a small area. It is based on the larger Burmese silver bowls, which are based on traditional lacquer Buddhist monks’ begging bowls known as a thabeik.
The bowl is decorated finely with six scenes each with two figures in traditional Burmese dress. Each acts out a scene in a traditional Burmese story.
The scenes are separated and bordered by complex, interlacing foliate scrollwork.
The base is plain and unadorned.
Bowls such as these had no ceremonial or religious use; they are purely decorative. Their shape is supposedly based on Burmese monks’ begging or alms bowls (one of the eight parikkharas or possessions allowed a monk). In turn, such bowls are based on a bowl that the Buddha himself is said to have used. But although the shape of such bowls is based on the monk’s begging bowl, ironically, Burmese monks are prohibited from touching gold or silver. Accordingly, Burmese silversmiths did not use their skills on religious objects unlike silversmiths in other Buddhist lands such as Tibet or Sri Lanka.
Overall, this bowl is very unusual for the density of decoration that the silversmith has managed to squeeze in given its size. The age of the bowl is clear. There are minor pin-prick holes in the repousse work which can only be seen when the bowl is held up to the light, as is typical of Burmese bowls such as these.
Fraser-Lu, S., Silverware of South-East Asia, Oxford University Press, 1989.
Fraser-Lu, S., Burmese Crafts: Past and Present, Oxford University Press, 1994.
Tilly, H.L., The Silverwork of Burma (with Photographs by P. Klier), The Superintendent, Government Printing, 1902.
Tilly, H.L., Modern Burmese Silverwork (with Photographs by P. Klier), The Superintendent, Government Printing, 1904.