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Marcel Nies

23. Buddha Head
Thailand, Ayudhia
15th century
Bronze, cast in the lost wax method, traces of gilding
height 36 cm.

Buddha Head

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 A.D. This fine portrait is of the historical Buddha Gautama Sakyamuni, born around 560 B.C. between the hills of South Nepal and the Rapti river.

The life-sized portrait of Sakyamuni is depicted with fine small haircurls, covering his head and ushnisa, the symbol of his ultimate wisdom. A wide band separates Buddha's forehead from his hairdress. 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 until the destruction by the Burmese in 1767 A.D. Five dynasties comprising thirty 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 about six miles long. Stylistically, this head is related to the images from Muang Sun, the present Sankhaburi, revealing some influence of Khmer features, typical for early Ayudhia examples. The fine thin casting, the small haircurls and stylised symmetrical elements are typical for the Ayudhia style. U-Thong characteristics are present in the band between Buddha's forehead and curls, the pronounced ears and the power of authority expressed by Buddha's mouth and chin.

This finely cast and noble head of Buddha is a superb example of the early phase of the Ayudhia style. Not hampered by later Ayudhia elements of exaggeration and decorativeness, this bronze head is treated with a lively imagination, exemplifying the artistic and technical skills of the Ayudhia masters. The fine stylised lines and features create their own aesthetic, revealing a sense of humanity in his serene expression.

Formerly in the collection of Dr. Kurt Sandmair, Germany.

all text, images © Marcel Nies

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