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Mythical bird-man
approx. 1775-1850
Central Thailand
Wood with remnants of lacquer, gilding, and mirrored-glass inlay
Gift from Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s Southeast Asian Art Collection,

Mythical bird-men and -women are among the wondrous creatures that inhabit the Eden-like Himavanta Forest of Buddhist legend. They are frequently depicted in Siamese sculptures, paintings, and other mediums.

Wooden figures of bird-men such as these were used in several sorts of royal ceremonies. One such statue is mentioned in the description of the coronation of Rama IV in 1851, where it is said to have contained a relic of the Buddha. Again in 1865 the decorations of the platform for a royal ceremony were said to include a statue of a bird-man containing a relic of the Buddha. The custom of using such figures in royal ceremonies most likely went back centuries.

Such statues have rarely survived, and only a handful are known. Several are in the National Museum, Bangkok.

Has had the spire of its crown replaced.

all text & images © Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

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