15. Buddha Sakyamuni
Lan Na Kingdom 15th century
Bronze, cast in the lost wax method
This temple image represents a seminal episode in Buddha Sakyamuni’s life, the moment of his enlightenment. With his right hand he touches the earth, indicating his subjugation of Mara, the god of desire, who strove to distract him from his meditation with a succession of temptations.
Sakyamuni is clad in a simple monastic robe that leaves his right shoulder and arm uncovered. He wears an urna, the sign of illumination on his forehead, his eyes are lowered beneath finely arching brows, and his mouth curves in a gentle smile. Large curls cover his head and ushnisa that symbolises his wisdom, and elongated earlobes, caused by the wearing of heavy earrings in his youth, reflect his royal origins. Sakyamuni’s throne is of a focussed shape, the central part being left open and breaking the pedestals volume, beautifully supporting Buddha’s weight.
The Kingdom of Lan Na was founded in the late thirteenth century, and until its capture in 1556, it was one of the most powerful Thai states. The city of Chieng Mai, established in 1327, was its cultural and political centre. This statue of Buddha is an early example of the Chieng Mai style; though the influence of the Indian Pala style is apparent, the arched eyebrows, downcast eyes, lips defined by contour lines, incised chin, and oval face, are clear Lan Na stylistic characteristics. The large and pronounced curls as well as the open earlobes are likewise features of this early Thai style.
Masterfully cast, the bronze is complemented by a natural patina and is striking for its impressive volume and beautiful contour. The Buddha is portrayed as an approachable human character, serene in expression, striking in its lively presence and sense of vital energy.
Collection Mr and Mrs D. Ghigo, Italy, 1970s–2016.
J. Boisselier, The Heritage of Thai Sculpture, Fribourg, 1974, fig. 113.
C. Stratton, Buddhist Sculpture of Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai, 2004, fig. 9.6.
L. Somkiart, Thailand, A History in Buddha Image, volume 1, Bangkok, 2006, pp. 222, 224 & 227.