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Buddhadharma : Fall 2009
Inside Art with Denise Leidy Denise LeiDy is a curator of Asian art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in new york and the author of The Art of Buddhism. (Facing page) Buddha Shakyamuni Thailand, Angkor period (802–1220), late 12th to early 13th century, bronze; height: 691⁄2 inches Kimbell Art Museum This powerful Thai sculpture of the Buddha can be understood in a number of ways. It is of course an icon, an image of a religious figure that was intended to be seen and could also function as an object of devotion. It is a reflection of the physical person of the Buddha, a tangible form used to house his charisma, and a symbol of enlightenment. This piece, like all religious works of art, belongs to a visual lineage. It can be traced to the first sculptures showing the historical Buddha in human form, which were produced in India in the second century. The full shoulders and chest, long legs and arms, elongated earlobes, and third eye are derived from Indian artistic traditions in which spiritual attainment manifests in physical perfection. The broad body and face of this Buddha are Thai reinterpretations of the Indian Buddha image; and the fantastic arch that surrounds him paral- lels similar devices in Sri Lanka. The crown and other jewelry worn by the Buddha, on the other hand, illustrate some of the ways in which Buddhist imagery adapted to different places and new practices. The elaborate jewelry parallels that worn by rulers in Thailand and Cambodia in the late twelfth century and early thirteenth century; its use here links the sculpture to the Southeast Asian practice in which a ruler identified himself with a certain deity to enhance his rule. This sculpture was produced when the Angkor empire in Cambodia controlled much of Thailand. With one exception, the Angkor rulers practiced Hinduism. Jayavarman VII (1181–1218) was a Buddhist, which is why this sculpture is thought to date to the late twelfth or early thirteenth century. There are other reasons for the bejeweling and enthroning. Buddhas wear- ing crowns first appear in the visual arts around the eighth century, and are thought to reflect rituals such as an initiation during which a practitioner buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 0 9 70 A Thai Interpretation of Buddha Shakyamuni