Permanent Collection: Buddhist Art

  • 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

Silver Inlaid Brass Bowl, Central Asia, Possibly Bukhara, C18th - C19th

Diameter: 17cms, Height: 8.5cms

This object consists of two parts; a bowl and a separate stand, both of which are made of brass and inlaid with silver.

The form of the bowl comprises two silver inlaid, gently sloping shelves separated by a narrow round of undecorated brass, which descend from the outer rim of the vessel, to a deeper well which falls away at the bowl’s centre.  The underside of the bowl is cast with a flattened circular plane which allows the bowl to sit comfortably on its base. 

The base itself is formed as a round platform to support the bowl, sitting on a sloping, silver inlaid vertical which finishes in a flat, metalwork circle.

This is an intriguing object, both due to its size and the combination of decorative features it bears.  While the size and, to a degree, the shape of the bowl suggest a likeness to the spittoons of Mughal India, the bowl’s decoration clearly suggests a Central Asian origin is more likely.  This example may be a smaller variation of the bowls sometimes associated with Central Asian ewers, of which examples are given in Kalter & Pavaloi, Abdullayev and Westphal-Hellbusch & Bruns.  Indeed, the bowl may formerly have had a grille or mesh fitted over its well, in keeping with such objects, though it is probably wrong to see this as part of a bowl and ewer washing set: the well of the bowl is smaller than those apparent in the sources, and it would be difficult to conceive of a lost, small ewer being associated with the bowl.

The principal decoration of the piece draws its motifs from two characteristically Silk Road styles.  The interior of the bowl carries two concentric rings of inlaid silverware, the outer a series of interlocking arches, the inner a more elaborate band featuring an arabesque of split leaf palmettes and other floral designs.  The latter is directly in the Timurid tradition, excellent examples being shown in Komaroff (fig 42 and catalogue item 12).  The outside of the bowl, conversely, features a pattern of Buddhist designs, alternating between an endless knot and a (possibly floral) derivative of the wheel.  Similar designs are apparent in Central Asian metalwork, for which see Kalter & Pavaloi, (figs 188-90) for a C15th, possibly Bukharan example, and again see Komaroff, (figs 23, 24 and 26) for probably earlier examples in the State Hermitage and the Louvre.

The upper part of the base continues this mix of cultures, carrying a fuller wheel at its centre, surrounded by a series of foliate designs.  These in turn are repeated on the exterior of the base in inlaid silver, above a further band of densely inlaid silver of more Islamic design.

Interestingly, the silver inlaid pattern of overlapping arches on the edge of the bowl also appears on bowls illustrated in Westphal-Hellbusch, and the similar pattern surrounding the lotus motif on the heavy silver thali elsewhere in our collection (link), suggesting an association of this motif with water in both instances. 

The specific dating and placing of this object is difficult.  Typically, Central Asian bowl and ewer sets are dated to the C18th or C19th, examples of which are shown in Kalter & Pavaloi and Abdullayev attributed to Bukhara, Khiva, Karshi and Kokand.  The use of extensive silver inlay may suggest a Bukharan origin.

References and sources:
Abdullayev, T., Fakhretdinova, D., Khakimov, A., A Song in Metal - Folk Art of Uzbekistan, (Tashkent: Gafur Gulyam Art and Literature Publishers, 1986).
Kalter, J., Pavaloi, M. and others, Uzbekistan - Heirs to the Silk Road, (
London: Thames and Hudson, 1997).
Komaroff, L., The Golden Disk of Heaven - Metalwork of Timurid Iran, (Costa Mesa, California and New York: Mazda Publishers in association with Bibliotheca Persica, 1992).
Westphal-Hellbusch, S., and Bruns, I., Metalgefasse aus Buchara, (Berlin, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Museum fur Volkerkunde, 1974).

Provenance: The UK art market
Catalogue number: GNC8