18th Century Buddha, Shan  

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Dry lacquer sculpture of the Buddha

Object- Dry Lacquer Buddha sculpture

Place-Rangoon, Burma (Myanmar)
Period-Late 18th or early 19th century AD

Dimension- Height: 1.800 m (sculpture)

Asia OA 1826.2-11.1 (sculpture);

Asia OA 1995.5-13.1 (throne)

Gift of Capt. Frederick Marryat

Current Location- British Museum,

LondonRoom 33: Asia

Buddhism has been present in Burma from the fifth century AD. Seated, standing and lying images of the Buddha were made in stone, metal, wood and lacquer for worship in temples. This large Buddha image is seated in the lotus position with the legs crossed and the left hand placed in his lap. In the fingers of his right hand is a myrobalan, a small fruit with medicinal properties. Legend tells how the Buddha received this fruit from the god Indra shortly after attaining enlightenment. Images of the Buddha as a healer holding the myrobalan are unusual outside Myanmar.

This image has been made using the dry lacquer technique. The approximate outline of the finished sculpture is made from clay. Over this is laid strips of cloth which have been imopregnated with lacquer sap. This is then covered with further layers of lacquer sap and lacquer putty (sap mixed with sawdust), with final details finished separately and then attached. Once the layers of lacquer are set, the clay core can be removed. Lacquer has been used to make Buddha images and other objects for many centuries in Burma and continues to this day.

The wooden and lacquered throne is a modern replacement for the lost original; it was commissioned by the Museum in Mandalay in 1995.

18th AD Premitive Buddha  

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Object- Gilt-Wood Buddha

Period- 18th AD or Earlier

Place- Irrawaddy Delta, Burma

Dimension- N.A

Current Location- British Museum

Museum ID- Asia OA 1872,7-1.1

Enlightenment: Art

Burma, probably from the region of the Irrawaddy Delta, 18th century AD or earlier

This figure of the Buddha shows him in a popular Burmese form, seated cross-legged on the backs of three elephants. The sculpture is made of wood that has been lacquered and gilded. He is depicted with his hands in the bhumisparsamudra position - his right hand touches the earth, calling on the Earth Goddess to witness the fact that he is able to achieve Enlightenment. This is the moment of triumph in the Buddha story, which explains its frequent use in Buddhist cultures, especially in Burma and Thailand.

The figure appears in James Stephanoff's painting An Assemblage of Works of Art, from the Earliest Period to the Time of Phydias. This is a nineteenth-century European view of the hierarchy of art, 'progressing' from South and Southeast Asian sculpture and that of the ancient Mayas at the bottom to the 'perfection' of classical Greek art at the top. Stephanoff placed the Buddha in his lowest, most primitive zone, next to reliefs of ancient Mayan civilizations that were being discovered in Central America. This reflected the belief at that time that the Mayan civilization had developed after contact between Central America and one of the ancient 'oriental' civilizations - China, India or Egypt. The historian Johann Winckelmann (1717-68) and others regarded Asian and Egyptian cultures as 'the cradle of civilization'. But they also believed that the art of these cultures was 'symbolic and primitive' in its representation of the human figure in comparison with what they saw as the sophisticated ideal reached by Greek artists.

Gift of the Bridge family

M. Caygill and J. Cherry (eds), A.W. Franks, nineteenth-centur (London, The British Museum Press, 1997)

Breast cloth or stole ( Yinzi or Tabet ) 1885  

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Object- Breast cloth or stole ( Yinzi or Tabet )
Techniques- Silk luntaya ('100 shuttles' interlocking tapestry weave)
Place-Mandalay (City), Burma
Dimensions-Length 264 cm, Width 27.4 cm
Current Location-Victoria & Albert Museum
Museum number-IM.8-1909
This is a detail of a silk garment, woven on a hand-loom in Mandalay Palace. The bands of undulating rope design, filled with floral and leaf patterns in a range of stunning colours on a red ground, exemplifies the renowned and uniquely Burmese textile known as acheik-luntaya. This garment would have been worn by a lady of the court either as a tabet (stole) or a yinzi (breast cloth), forming an ensemble when worn with a wrap skirt known in Burma as an hta-mein and jacket known as an ein-gyi. The garment dates from the reign of King Thibaw (r. 1878-1885), the last ruler of the Konbaung dynasty. It was found in the apartment of Queen Supayalat, the chief queen of King Thibaw, by the donor's husband, Colonel Pollard, who was a member of the British force that annexed upper Burma in 1885.