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Fine 12th C. Khmer Bronze Seated Naga Buddha

Southeast Asia, Cambodia, Khmer Empire, ca. late 12th to 15th century CE. A detailed bronze statue of Buddha, seated on a tiered throne composed of the enormous body of the giant naga, the serpent king Muchilinda. This particular example has a truly beautiful blue-green patina. Muchilinda's hooded head serves as a protective covering for Buddha's back and head. Buddha's hands are in the Dhyana Mudra, a gesture of meditation, with the hands placed in the lap, right hand on left, with fingers fully stretched out and palms facing upwards. In his hands is a small medicine jar, symbolizing the cure his teachings offer. The Buddha's face is serene, with a naturalistic and warm expression; he wears beautiful jewelry and has a crown topped by a detailed ushnisha. Comes with custom stand. Size: 3.25" W x 8" H (8.3 cm x 20.3 cm); height on stand: 9.6" (24.4 cm)

The story told here may be that Muchilinda is protecting the Buddha from heavy rain; this iconographic depiction of the Buddha is a common one from the reign of Khmer King Jayavarman VII (reigned ca. 1181 to 1218 CE), who established a cult based around it. Scholars believe that this may be because Jayavarman was disabled and snakes were associated with healing.

However, some scholars question the Buddha/Muchilinda story, saying that it is based on a misreading of the sources. Naga cults were common throughout Indian, Sri Lankan, and Southeast Asian artwork during this period, but the symbolism is somewhat unclear. Some have proposed that nagas could be symbolic vehicles for elevating the dead - equating to transcendence. That is based on interpretation of artwork from around Angkor Wat and other parts of the Khmer world. Others see the inclusion of the naga as a holdover from earlier symbolic practices.

Khmer art moved away from Indian styles in the 7th century CE to encompass its own framework; one example of this seen here is that this statue is carved in the round, rather than as a relief, which was common with Indian and Javanese Hindu and Buddhist sculptures that were previously influencing Cambodian art. From this, we can infer that Khmer sculptors would have desired their artwork to be viewed from all sides, and thus placed in the center of a shrine rather than against a wall.

Condition: Small losses on lower base edge. Beautiful blue and green encrusted patina with excellent remaining detail.

Provenance: private Bangkok, Thailand collection

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