A large white marble Burmese Buddha Post Pagan, Ava Kingdom, 16/17th century
A large white marble Burmese Buddha modelled in the form of Sakyamuni Buddha seated in vajraparyankasana, the right hand held in bhumisparshamudra and the left in dhyanamudra, wearing a pleated robe draped over the left shoulder, the serene face with highly arched eyebrows, protruding eyeballs, the head is designed as a broad oval, somewhat flattened on top. The ushnisha has the form of a low truncated cone. The finial on top of it looks like a lotus-bud, but in the iconography inherited from India this same form represents a "jewel".
Dimensions : Height 116 cm.
Era : Post Pagan, Ava Kingdom, 16/17th century.
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Reference : Jane Terry Bailey, Some Seventeenth-Century Images from Burma.
Fig. 1 Burmese image of the Buddha; marble; height 29 1/2 inches. Founder's Collection (Tradescant Collection), Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Courtesy of the Ashmolean Museum.
Fig. 2 Burmese image of the Buddha; bronze, Pagan Museum. After Archaeological Survey of India, Annual Report, 1927-28, Pl. LIII-b.
In several Western museums there are examples of Burmese sculpture which can be grouped to form an idea of a 17th century style (...) made of white marble, with certain parts painted with lacquer (thitsi). Some of this lacquer is red; some of it appears to be black, but it may be red lacquer that has become discolored. The lips, nostrils, eyelids and eyebrows are, or were, outlined in lacquer. The hair seems to have been lacquered and then coated with gold leaf. (...)
The key piece of this group (Fig. 1) belongs to the Ashmolean Museum, where it is displayed in the Founder's Collection which Elias Ashmore inherited from John Tradescant. This statue has been in England at least since 1656, when it was listed in the Tradescant catalogue as "the Indian pa god". It reappears in the Ashmolean 1685 catalogue as "deus out idol pay god vulgo dictum."
(...) This statue may have been taken for in 17th-century England, we have no difficulty in recognizing it as a Burmese image of the Lord Buddha seated in padmasana, with his right hand on his shin and the fingers pointing downward in bhumisparsamudra. The posture represents the Enlightenment, or to be more precise the eve of the Enlightenment, when Gotama, who has been in prolonged meditation with both hands lying in his lap (dhyanamudra), moves his right hand to point downward and "call the Earth to witness", leaving his left hand motionless in his lap.
(...) As we have seen, this statue has been in England for at least 315 years. How many years before was it created in Burma? My guess is, not many. Comparisons with works executed in another medium are not always helpful, but in this instance we may be able to learn something from a bronze image of the Buddha dating from 1643 (Fig. 2), which was discovered in the 1920's by some local monks and elders in the ruins of a temple at Natpallin, a village twelve miles from N-yaung-u, near Pagan. The throne of the image, says the archeological report, "bears a line of writing in Burmese, stating that the image was the meritorious work or gift of one Bonthi and his wife Chit Yin, and that it was completed on Wednesday the 10th waxing of Tazaungmôn in the year 1005 Sakrac (= 25th October, 1643)".
(...) In the Pagan region in the 17th century there was an artistic revival, which was doubtless responsible for the production of this bronze, and which may have included marble sculpture as well. It is quite possible that the Ashmolean's statue was a product of the revival. The next question is how it found its way to England.