Permanent Collection: Buddhas

  • The colossal Avukana buddha may have been an inspiration for later Kandyan craftsmen

Kandyan Silver Buddha Shakyamuni, Sri Lanka, C18th

Height: 4.5cms

This piece is a representation of Shakyamuni or the historical Buddha, sitting in the lotus position (padmashana), the hands in the gesture of meditation (dhyana mudra). He is narrowly cast, with broad shoulders and representational rather than figurative hands and feet, the latter appearing from beneath the figure’s robe.  The robe itself is cast in a series of close folds or pleats, leaving the right shoulder and upper chest bear, with a plain surplice or lappet hanging down over the left shoulder to the front and rear.  Notwithstanding his size, the figure's half open, meditative eyes, are clearly apparent, as are the elongated princely ears and lightly etched hair.  The figure also bears the added feature of a flaming ornament arising from where a unisa or cranial ‘bump’ would normally be found, a common feature of Sri Lankan Buddhas. The figure is cast in solid silver.  He is without a base or pedestal of any kind, and carries a small aperture at the bottom of his cloak to the rear, indicating that he may formerly have been part of a broader setting.

The figure is difficult to date, however the iconography, and in particular the gently zig-zagged folds of the cloak, suggest an origin in the Kandyan period as being most likely. Hence we tentatively suggest a C18th attribution.  Within the Kandyan palette, the figure lacks the elongated face associated with royal workshops, and is most likely of provincial origin.

The consistency of modelling and iconography between the Kandyan period and the earlier Anuradhapura period is striking.  It has been suggested (Guardian of the Flame, p.131) that Kandyan sculptors were inspired by the gigantic forms of the earlier period such as the Buddha at Avukana, in recovering from the Period of Divided Kingdoms and reacting against previous styles depicting the Buddha wearing a thin robe without pleats.  Setting to one side the form of the robe, Ghose (p.194) illustrates a strikingly similar figure of circa 11cms height in gilt bronze dating from the later Anuradhapura period (C7th - C10th), again highlighting the continuities between these two periods.

References and sources:
Ghose, R., Ho, P., Chun-Tong, Y., In the Footsteps of the Buddha - an Iconic Journey from India to China, (Hong Kong: University Museum and Art Gallery, The University of Hong Kong, 1998).
Guardian of the Flame - Art of Sri Lanka, Listopad, J., (Phoenix: Phoenix Art Museum, 2003).

Provenance: The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC16