Monumental Buddha head

Gilded copper alloy
Circa 16th century, Ayutthayā style (1350-1767)
H. 46 cm or 18 ⅛ in

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A radiant representation of the Blessed One

This spectacular head, imposing and striking, is that of a monumental Buddha who must have been the object of a particularly important cult. The Blessed One is immediately identifiable by two prominent iconographic features: his cranial protuberance (or uṣṇīṣa) embedded in his hair composed of a multitude of regular small curls, and his extraordinarily distended earlobes, signs of the princely past and the heavy jewelry that Siddhārtha was wearing before he became Buddha.

This head must have belonged to the sculpture of a seated Buddha, sketching the gesture of “Calling the Earth to witness” (bhūmisparśa mudrā), a fundamental moment in Buddhism as it corresponds to the Awakening of the Blessed One.


An exceptional witness to a prosperous kingdom

In 1350, a prince of U Thong founded Ayutthayā, took the name of Rāmathibodi 1 and unified Thailand, then called Siam. Ayutthayā will remain the capital until it is captured by the Burmese in 1767. This long period saw the development of a rich, stylistically very varied art, mixing with an infinite variety the aesthetics of the various previous Thai schools. This majestic head perpetuates here, yet modifies, the common features of the Sukhothai style. Thus, we find the arched eyebrows that continue in the extension of the nose, the heavy eyelids over almost closed eyes and the hair in tight, well-defined curls. However, the face here is more elongated and its features more geometric.

A certain tendency to be more decorative is visible in Ayutthayā art from the very beginning and this Buddha, with its exceptional presence, its regular features, its superb patina and its beautiful remains of gilding, is a quite remarkable example. It beautifully reflects the sense of prosperity and strength of the Ayutthayā kingdom.

Provenance: Private collection, United States ; Sotheby’s, New-York, 1998.

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