Temple Gallery

Established 1959

Buddha head - exhibited at the Temple Gallery, specialists in Russian icons

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GG007. Buddha Head

Thailand, Kingdom of Sukhothai
13th or 14th century
Bronze with traces of gilding
Height: 62 cmClick here to convert metric size to imperial

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Referred to as "the cradle of Thai culture", the arts of the kingdom of Sukhothai, in north-central Thailand evoke the magnificence of this once great civilisation where artists and the Buddhist schools they served, broke away from Cambodian and Mon influences. From 1250 to 1450 this movement inspired by Theravada Buddhism created a new style in which spiritual serenity is merged with human form. Sculptors did not base their images on naturalistic human form but on interpretations of metaphors from religious verse and scriptures in the ancient Pali language. Buddha images of the Sukhothai period are elegant, with sinuous bodies and slender, oval faces. This style emphasized the spiritual aspect of the Buddha by omitting certain anatomical details in order to emphasise principles of harmonious proportion.

The present example, a masterpiece of exceptional quality and a prototype for countless subsequent images over the centuries, illustrates the canonical defining marks of a Buddha, as they are set out in the Pali texts. Among these we note: ‘head like an egg’, ‘hair like scorpion stingers’, ‘chin like a mango stone’, ‘nose like a parrot's beak’, ‘earlobes lengthened by the earrings of royalty’, ‘eyelashes like a cow's’, ‘eyebrows like drawn bows’.

While remaining strictly within the formal canon, facial expressions vary between one image and another as we see in comparing our figure with others of the same date in the Metropolitan Museum and the British Museum. Some seem more severe, some more remote. Our example is somewhat unusual in the degree of tenderness, of carefully poised attention and the beginnings of a smile as though acknowledging a moment of recognition. It may be that our head came from a figure of the Buddha with his right hand in the gesture of reassurance (abhayamudra).

The date of this object is supported by certificates issued by 1. Dr Peter Northover of Oxford Materials and Begbroke Nano. His metallographic analysis concludes that 'the composition is consistent with production in Northern Thailand in the 14th -15th centuries'. His opinion is that 'the head is ancient and authentic'. 2. Olivier Langevin of Archeolabs, Saint Bonnet de Chavagne, France who concludes 'The age of the last firing is included between 350 and 550 years. Thermoluminescence confirms the authenticity of the bronze'. 3. Ralf Kotalla of Laboratory Ralf Kotalla whose Analytical Result 'on the basis of the standard methods and techniques used in the Thermoluminescence process [calculates] the last time of firing of the object samples to be: 720 years +/ ‒ 35%'. 4. Sam Dalton of the Crucible Foundry and specialist in bronze casting and restoration of ancient metal. His analysis concludes 'In my opinion . . . the object conforms to data and criteria one would expect from an ancient object (i.e. about 500 years old)'.

Detail Images