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Marcel Nies

24. Buddha Head
Thailand, Lan Na
circa 1500
Bronze, cast in the lost wax method, traces of gilding
height 48 cm.

Buddha Head

The ideal image of Thailand's most important symbol is represented by this fine portrait of Sakyamuni, once part of a complete temple Buddha image. As the teaching of the Buddha effects one's conduct, which has a direct bearing on one's fortune, the pseudoscience of astrology is involved in the making of a Buddha image. The Thai believe that the fortune of each individual can be foretold by the movement of the nine planets in relation to the one under which one is born. The philosophy and doctrine of Buddha Sakyamuni are comprised in the expression of this life-sized head, which appears as a human being who tries to help beings by giving directions to the eight fold path which leads to enlightenment.

Portrayed with fine small haircurls, covering his head and ushnisa, the symbol of his ultimate wisdom, this head of Buddha Gautama Sakyamuni is depicted with a fine band, separating his forehead from his hairdress. A large flame as symbol of his spirituality is placed on top of his head. The elongated earlobes caused by wearing heavy earrings in his youth, reflect Buddha's royal origin.

Infiltrating from Southeastern China, the Thais established themselves in separate but independent states in the valleys of the four headwaters of the Chao Phraya, the Ping, Wang, Yom and Nan rivers. These constituted the Lan Na kingdom which from its founding in the late 13th century to its capture in 1556 A.D. was one of the most powerful Thai states, rivalling only Ayudhia. The cultural and political centre was at the city of Chieng Mai, which was founded in 1327 A.D. Influenced by the Indian Pala style (with the intermediary style of Pagan), and by the style of Sukhothai, Lan Na style characteristics are evident in the oval face with fleshy cheeks, arched eyebrows, down cast eyes, lips bordered by contour lines and chin with incised semi-oval line. The small haircurls, the large flame and the pronounced open earlobes are typical for the Chieng Mai style. There are a large number of dated Buddha images from the Lan-Na kingdom; this head shows many stylistic similarities with pieces dated to the late 15th and early 16th centuries. See: Griswold, 'Dated Buddha images of northern Siam' (1956).

This head of Buddha Gautama Sakyamuni reveals his serene and meditative character at the highest level. The head is a pure and classic example of the Lan Na kingdom in the Chieng Mai style: a majestic portrait with distinct energy, externalized by his fine pronounced features and beautiful volume. The great teacher is depicted as a friendly human being, with an inner happiness and softly smiling, an embodiment of wisdom and compassion.

Formerly in the collection of Van Der Toorn Vrijthoff, Netherlands.

all text, images © Marcel Nies

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