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Old Wood Carving of a Male Dancer
Item No. T056

19th Century, N/A, Burma
Wood with Gilt
19" x 8" x 6.25"
( 48.26 x 20.32 x 15.875 cm)
(H x W x D)

This old carving of a male Burmese dancer dates from the end of the 19th century and is a demonstration of the great abilities of Burmese carvers. The dancer is very simply dressed in a sarong, those worn by men called a longyi, and a hat consisting of a cloth wrapped around the head in a bun. The sarong, which is patterned in a large checker board-like fashion formed by the intersection of double parallel lines in each direction, is wrapped around the man's waist with excess yardage tucked under the material below his belly and falling down in delightful looping folds and patterns between his legs. The whole longyi is tightened around his body by folding the material downwards in a loop so that it will not unravel or loosen. The dancer is barefoot, and he wears no top or shirt of any kind.

The sculptor displays his skills in carving and his sensitivity to the curves, volumes, flows and particulars of the human body and especially this dancer's body. The lines of the patterns of the sarong are presented as shallow, carved, mostly straight lines that, nevertheless, subtly change their direction because of volume changes of the body underneath the cloth, as where the left leg stretches forward or where the dancer's ample rear stretches the cloth behind him. The carver presents the man as having an ample stomach and a not particularly strong or muscle-bound chest, as he is able to skillfully portray layers of loose skin above the belly, the lack of musculature in the upper body and round arms with little strength. The figure, however, is seen as a graceful dancer with elegance and charm despite the fact that he is probably not a professional but is, rather, probably a farmer or some kind of common village person.

The carver is able to capture the elegance and appeal of this “stylish commoner” through the use of poses suggesting movement, body parts turning in different directions, and well-designed and sometimes opposing positions of the various parts of the dancer’s body. Thus, one leg is thrust forward and carries almost all of the dancer’s weight with the foot flat on the ground, while the other leg is light, is well bent at the knee while the foot touches the ground lightly at only the toes and is raised at a forty-five degree angle, as the dancer transfers his weight forward to the left leg. Also, the arms are lifted to the height of the shoulders, bend at the elbows and turn right from the center of the body, while the head turns left in the opposite direction revealing his rounded head with prominent ears on a short and narrow neck, triangular nose, half-circle arched eyebrows, narrow chin and pursed, soft lips. Finally, the elegant and graceful positioning of the hands, the right higher than the left with closed fingers pointing right at a 45 degree angle, the left extended a bit more away from the body, the fingers more differentiated and the thumb separated from the rest and positioned in a curving arch back toward the head—these movements and counter movements, the positioning together of opposites and the counterbalancing of different volumes in different directions is a tour-de-force of the sculptors art.

The piece is mounted on a plain rectangular black wood base with soft curved edges. There is a very old repair at the left shoulder and the left leg has been broken and re-glued. Otherwise, the piece is in excellent condition.

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