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Jonathan Tucker Antonia Tozer Asian Art

H. 34 CMS, 13 ½ INS.

A subtle, understated pale buff sandstone stele, carved in high-relief with a depiction of the Buddha (possibly the healing Buddha Bhaisajyaguru), seated in virasana on a double-lotus pedestal and holding a bowl in his lap, the right hand lowered in bhumisparsimudra (the gesture of ‘summoning the earth to witness’), the face with an intense spiritual gaze with a circular nimbus behind the head, the reverse slightly convex and covered in a dark, blackish brown patina.

According to the renowned Burma scholar G.H. Luce only a dozen or so of these high-relief stone Buddha stelae are recorded. They may have adorned the niches of minor temples surrounding one or other of the great stupas at the Pyu capital of Srikshetra, near the modern city of Prome on the banks of the Irrawaddy, 300 km northwest of Rangoon. It is also possible that were commissioned to grace the domestic shrines of the well-to-do. This sculpture is among three such stelae photographed by Prince Damrong Rajanubhab of Thailand (1862-1943), a son of King Rama IV, during a visit to Srikshetra in 1936 (see photo above). The three Buddhas are illustrated in Prince Damrong’s account of the visit, published posthumously in Thai in 1946 and in English in 1991 – see page 197 in H.R.H. Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, Journey through Burma in 1936, Bangkok: River Books, 1991. Of these three Buddhas, the left hand figure is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the right hand example is in the Utah Museum of Fine Arts and the centre one is offered here. The account notes that the prince was permitted to select various artefacts for his own collection and it may well be that these three sculptures were acquired at the time of his visit.

PROVENANCE: Private English collection.

all text & images � Jonathan Tucker Antonia Tozer Asian Art

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