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Marcel Nies

14. Head of Buddha Sakyamuni
Thailand; Ayudhia
16th c.
Bronze, cast in the lost wax method, flame cast separately, traces of gilding
height 59 cm

Head of Buddha Sakyamuni

The historical Buddha Gautama Sakyamuni is the embodiment of compassion who having achieved the highest evolutionary perfection, turns suffering into happiness for all living beings. The Thais believed that one of the time-honoured ways of ensuring a favourable rebirth has been to make, or to sponsor the making of, a Buddha image. Once an image is invested with an inner life, it acquires a character or identity of its own. In practice the Thais consider Buddha images as living beings, and they treat them as such. In calamitous times, a number of Buddha images are reported to have cried, the best known case being the image by the name of Pra Chao Phananchoeng at Ayudhia, which shed tears before the city fell to the Burmese in 1767.

Portrayed with full eyebrows and half-closed eyes, this life-size portrait of the historical Buddha Sakyamuni has fine small haircurls covering his head. The ushnisa, the symbol which denotes spiritual wisdom, is depicted in the upper part of his curly hair. The finial has the shape of a flame, and a small band separates his forehead with his haircurls. The elongated earlobes caused by wearing heavy earrings in his youth, reflect Buddha's royal origin.

The kingdom of Ayudhia was founded in 1350 A.D. By the middle of the 15th century the kingdom extended to the majority of the territory of present-day Thailand, with the exception of the north. Ayudhia was one of the richest and most powerful states ever in South-East Asia till the destruction by the Burmese in 1767 A.D. Five dynasties comprising thirthy-three kings ruled the Ayudhia kingdom for 417 years. With its magnificence of some five hundred pagodas, the city of Ayudhia was encompassed with a large stone wall of about six miles long.

Stylistically, this head is a classic example of the Ayudhia period. The fine thin casting, the small haircurls, the elongated pronounced and pointed ears, the shape of the original flame on top of the ushnisa, and the superbly stylised symmetrical facial features comprising elongated nose, eyes, mouth and eyebrows, are all typical characteristics of the Ayudhia style.

This finely cast and noble head of the historical Buddha is a classic example of the Ayudhia style. Executed with a lively imagination, the bronze exemplifies the artistic and technical skills of the Ayudhia masters. The impressive over life-size volume, the purity of the stylised lines and the pronounced facial features, create their own aesthetic, revealing a sense of serene humanity. With absolute calm and nobility, this Buddha expresses strongly his royal origin and high level of evolutionary perfection. Depicted as a friendly human being, with an inner happiness and softly smiling, this important head of Buddha is an embodiment of wisdom and compassion.

Provenance: Private collection Germany.

all text, images © Marcel Nies
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