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Antique Trio of Bronze Buddha and Pair of Monks
Item No. 5561

Late 19th Century, Buddhist, Thailand
Bronze with Gilt
67" x 12" x 0"
( 170.18 x 30.48 x 0 cm)
(H x W x D)

In 1767 the Burmese defeated the Thais, destroyed the Thai capital Ayutthaya and much of the Buddhist art and architecture there and removed the entire Siamese court to the Burmese court at Ava. A new Thai kingdom was founded in Thonburi under King Taksin. In 1782 the newly established Chakri dynasty, whose kings were referred to as Rama, moved the capital back to Bangkok. The first king, Rama I, had the monumental task of establishing and legitimizing Bangkok as the new capital in a country suffering from a devastating defeat by the Burmese. To strengthen Bangkok as Thailandís administrative and spiritual center, Rama I commissioned numerous monasteries to be built. However, the task of filling them with statuary was especially daunting as many Thai artisans were involuntarily taken to Burma as booty after the war to serve under the Burmese kings. Thus, he filled temples and monasteries with over one thousand existing Buddha images brought down to Bangkok from war-torn areas of central and northern Thailand.

This time in Thailandís history, known as the Bangkok period, is divided into two artistic periods: the Early Period (1782 Ė 1851) which used classical Siamese traditions, and the Late Period (1851 to the present), which uses both classical Thai and some modern westernized elements. The art of this period, referred to as Rattanakosin as well as Bangkok style, has been viewed in the past by art historians as less significant than previous periods in demonstrating the mastery of Thai sculpture. Thai artists were viewed as less prolific and it seemed that relatively few new Buddha images were created. Sculptors who created new images began to emulate the Ayutthaya style in an attempt to regain the past greatness of the defeated capital, and many of the images are exact replicas of Ayutthaya prototypes.

While initially not viewed as being as vital and emotional as previous times, Rattanakosin images are now undergoing a critical revival and being singled out for their technical virtuosity and for some innovations made at the time. In general, there was a willingness to explore new themes, and inspirations for statues were now were no longer exclusively religious. Sculptors studied old literature and Hindu texts to discover new themes and new ways to depict the Buddha that differed greatly from those of previous periods. The refinement and simplicity of Buddha images in earlier periods was often replaced with regal ornamentation which was elaborately decorative, and artists strove to outdo their predecessors in abundant embellishments. Rattanakosin sculptors were fascinated with drapery and ornamentation, and they replaced the simple monkís robes traditionally adorning Buddha images with elaborately intricate garments to reflect their new more decorative aesthetic.

This finely crafted trio typifies the Rattanakosin style. The Buddha stands with his right hand in abhaya mudra, the hand gesture of protection and reassurance in which his palm is held outward with elongated graceful fingers pointing upward. In Sanskrit, abhaya means fearlessness, thus this mudra symbolizes protection, peace, and the dispelling of fear. His left arm is held pendant at his side. His fingers and toes are of equal length which reflects the earlier iconography of the Sukhothai period. His half-closed eyes are inset with white porcelain and stare downward under arched eyebrows. His round shaped head is covered with snail like curls (swebo-thorns) and has a prominent usnisha (the cranial protuberance) surmounted by a flame finial symbolizing the Buddhist faith. His elongated shell-shaped ears flare outward, symbolizing his princely origins as well as his wisdom. He wears a long cape-like and highly decorative sanghati, which is a monkís robe, that is worn folded over the left shoulder with the central sash falling between the legs. The robe flares outward and is entirely decorated with embroidery-like floral designs. Heavily ornate bands embellish the central sash and the edges of the robes. The figure was made to be viewed from all sides, as the back of the robe is richly embellished as well.

The Buddha stands on a three-tiered octagonal pedestal surmounted by a rounded base decorated with stylized lotuses. Each of the tiers is highly decorated with foliate motifs encircling them. The Buddha is protected by a three-part highly decorative pierced parasol, one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols. It is associated with wealth, nobility, high rank, royalty and power, since one had to be rich enough to possess such an item to be protected from the sun and rain, and they were normally carried by servants. In Buddhism, it signifies the Buddha's spiritual power in protecting beings from the miseries of samsara, the cycle of life, and its symbol of material wealth and power has come to be a sign and emblem of spiritual power.

The Buddha is flanked by a pair of standing monks, probably Moggallana and Sariputta, the first two disciples of the Buddha. Among all His disciples, the Buddha trusted Sariputta the most and asked him to be a teacher to his son Rahula. Moggallana was known for his supernatural powers: he had the divine powers to hear any sounds, whether near or far, and to see things through obstructions. Both were known for their wisdom and were entrusted by the Buddha to keep the doctrine pure.

The monks stand with their hands in the anjali-mudra (also known as namaskara-mudra) with the palms pressed together in front of the heart, forming the shape of a lotus bud in gesture of greeting, respect and reverence. This mudra is usually offered between those of equal status or from junior to senior, as in this triad of two monks around the Buddha. The hands can also be seen as forming a diamond in which two 'worlds' are joined, and the resulting union is symbolic of the eternal, indestructible truth that is the Dharma. This mudra is often associated with Moggallana and Sariputta who are entrusted with spreading the Dharma. The monks are adorned in ornate brocaded robes complimenting that of the Buddha.

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