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Marcel Nies

22. Buddha Sakyamuni
Thailand, Sukhothai
first half 15th century
Bronze, cast in the lost wax method, fine dark brown patina with traces of lacquer and gilding
height 73.5 cm

Buddha Sakyamuni

Buddhism is a rational philosophy propagated by the Indian sage Gautama Sakyamuni, the historical Buddha, developed some 2500 years ago as a way of life based on the acceptance of worldly reality. Existence for the Buddhist is suffering, caused by unquenchable desire. The goal of Buddhist teaching is to attain a release from existence by extinguishing desire, which in turn leads to the state of Nirvana, the Buddhist heaven. This sculpture is depicting the historical Buddha Gautama Sakyamuni, the Buddha of compassion who, having achieved the highest evolutionary perfection, turns suffering into happiness for all living beings.

Seated in virasana (his right leg resting on his left), Buddha makes with his right hand the gesture of bhumisparsa mudra; Buddha touches mother earth, indicating the subjugation of Mara, the evil god of desire who had tempted the Buddha and who was his last obstacle in his attainment of perfection. His left hand is resting in his lap, the gesture of contemplation. The ushnisa, the symbol which denotes wisdom, is depicted on top of his curly hair. Buddha is dressed in a monk's robe with his right shoulder and arm bare. The elongated earlobes reflect his royal origins.

Having broken its bondage to Cambodia in the second quarter of the 13th century, the kingdom of Sukhothai enjoyed a brief but artistically brilliant period of independence until it became a vassal of Ayudhia in 1438. During the reign of Ramkamhaeng (1279-1299 A.D.), the Sukhothai kingdom was at its height of power and covered much of present-day Thailand, with the exceptions of the north and north-east. After Sukhothai became a sovereign state it left little evidence regarding its artistic past, which was primarily a Khmer cultural tradition. Instead it developed a style of its own, presenting Buddha images of a unique and new artistic level, revealing the highest quality of the Thai cultural history. Although only six dated images of the Sukhothai style are known, the dating of these images can be determined by their pure classic stylistic elements and the reflection of the high technical attainment at Sukhothai in the bronze casting art. Typical characteristics are the shape of the flame, large haircurls, pronounced ears, the line of the eyebrows continuing in the nose, the lower part of the nose pointing to the earth, pronounced ears, a shawl over Buddha's left shoulder with an edge continuing over his left lower arm and left leg, the elementary shape of the throne, the hands showing fingers of different lengths, and the smooth polished surface of the high quality cast bronze.

This classic Sukhothai bronze Buddha is depicted with beautiful volumes and harmonious balanced proportions. The fine polished casting has pure lines and reveal the artistic and technical skills of the Sukhothai masters. Every part of Buddha's body seems to radiate with the figure's inner life. The energy which emerges from this important Thai bronze suggest strongly his royal origin and high level of evolutionary perfection.

Formerly in a private collection, Switzerland.


all text, images © Marcel Nies

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