Burma; Pyu kingdom
Bronze; H. 7 7/8 in. (20 cm)
Lindemann Fund, 2006 (2006.53)
The Pyu kingdom flourished in central and northern Burma from the early years of the first millennium A.D. to about 832, when Halin, the capital, was sacked by forces of the Nanchao kingdom of southern China. Pyu sculpture is extremely rare. Characteristic of the finest early Southeast Asian sculpture, the fluid modeling of this Buddha image emphasizes soft, flowing volumes rather than linear form. The large ovoid head topped by a wiglike coiffure with a tall, beehive-shaped ushnisha (cranial protuberance) is typical of Pyu bronze Buddhas, as are the full, sensual lips and the long, fleshy nose with a slight hook at the end, perhaps a vestige of Indian influence. (Ritual handling has partially effaced the modeling of the eyes.) The authoritative chest, with its exaggeratedly low pectoral muscles, forms a plane that sweeps down from the broad shoulders to the subtle transition to the soft belly below, where a deep indentation indicates the waist of the Buddha's garment. The thighs are naturalistically proportioned, but the lower legs and feet are somewhat stunted; emphasis is given instead to the large surviving hand, one of the distinguishing characteristics of a Buddha.
This Buddha originally may have held both of his hands in vitarkamudra, the teaching gesture (the small metal tenon that supported his now broken hand can be seen on his right thigh). This two-handed gesture is an iconography that originated with Buddhas produced by the contemporary Mon Dvaravati culture in neighboring Thailand.