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Torso of a Buddha

This slate torso wears a tightly-clinging monastic robe, revealing the contours of an apparently sexless body. The aesthetic qualities of this torso are derived from the harmonious balance of volumes, the beautiful contours and the fine stone surface. The image of the Buddha or "The Enlightened One" expresses serene quiescence. The harmony of his perfect proportions and the graciousness of his physical form represent one of the many qualities or powers of a Buddha. This poised appearance describes the ideal picture of a Heavenly Body that is not subject to change or decay. It is thought that this idea of eternal beauty that will never perish, is the reason why Buddha figures were often made in stone, even though the Mon sculptors experienced some difficulty in working the limestone they had available.

The kingdom of Funan, located around the Mekong Delta of southern Vietnam and Cambodia, began to retreat into itself during the sixth century A.D. This allowed the indigenous populations to regain control of their territories. The dominant population of Thailand at that time was Mon, an ancient race of unknown origin which had developed a very advanced culture during their subjugation by the Funanese. After the sixth century, the Mon artists began to produce the first Buddhist art in Southeast Asia that no longer looked to India for inspiration, but developed its own unique style.

This new school of art extended over the central region of Thailand from the sixth to the eleventh century and is traditionally named 'Dvaravati'. The term 'Dvaravati' was used by neighbouring kingdoms to describe a culture centralized in the Chao Phraya Valley, but the current application of it to the entire central region of Thailand has been contested.

The Mon-Dvaravati 'Kingdom' (6th - 11th century A.D.) is recognized as being the first state of Siam that comprised a group of riverine cities. It was probably an informal federation of principalities, rather than a centralized state. By the tenth century, the disparate Mon-Dvaravati traditions began to come under the influence of the Khmers, and central Thailand was ultimately invaded by the Khmer king Suryavarman II in the first half of the twelfth century.

Most of the people of Dvaravati were Mon people who had left India for Northern Thailand. At that time, Mahayana Buddhism prevailed in Dvaravati - although the Mon were followers of Theraveda Buddhism, which would become dominant from the thirteenth century on - and consequently played an important role in introducing Buddhism and particularly Buddhist art to this South-East Asian region. It was a pure, non-dogmatic, essentially monotheistic and monastic 'attitude' rather than a religion.

Due to the relative isolation of Dvaravati, a distinct and highly sophisticated Mon-Dvaravati style emerged; especially notable are the many multi-armed bodhisattvas. Although their style was strongly influenced by the Gupta and post-Gupta styles of fourth to eighth century India, the Dvaravati sculptures are reduced to their essence by eliminating all the superficial details. They express an inner force and Buddhist ideal of peace, love and friendship.

Mon sculptors were more adept at creating stucco bas reliefs and terracotta figures than stone sculpting, because the limestone available to them was a brittle schistous variety, riddled with internal fault lines. To overcome this weakness, the artists were forced to design figures which may appear excessively heavy. However, the execution of facial features and other details reveal a skilfully rendered sensibility, expressing the faith of the entire population. The perfection of form and balanced proportions convey the benevolence of the Buddha, a benevolence which is his greatest strength.

Object information

Date and place:
Thailand, Mon Dvaravati Dynasty, 7th - 8th century
113 x 43 x 22 cm
Sold by Mr. and Mrs. Mary-Rabine to Axel Vervoordt in 2017; Private collection Mr. and Mrs. Mary-Rabine, Belgium and Paris, acquired after 1975 from a private collection; Acquired from M. Grusenmeyer in the early 1970s; Collection of the antiques dealer M. Grusenmeyer (father) before 1970.

- BRAND M. & PHOEURN C., The Age of Angkor: Treasures from the National Museum of Cambodia. Exhibition at the Australian National Gallery, 22 August - 25 October 1992 (Studies in Asian Art 1), Canberra 1992.

- JERMSAWALDI P., Thai Art With Indian Influences, s.l. 1979.

- JESSUP H.I. & ZEPHIR T. (eds.), Angkor et dix siècles d'art khmer. Exposition aux Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 31 janvier - 26 mai 1997, Paris 1997.

- SIRIBHADRA S. & MOORE E., Palaces of the Gods: Khmer Art & Architecture in Thailand, Bangkok 1992.

- VAN BEEK S. & INVERNIZZI TETTONI L., The Arts of Thailand, s.l. 1991.

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