Buddha images are object of religious worship, not mere decoration items. The sculpture of the Buddha is by far the most common in Southeast Asian Art, however, sculptures of Hindu deities are also created until the 16th century. In later years, sculptures of disciples and monks became more popular, especially in Burmese Art. Different from East Asian and Himalayan Art, the Buddha only comes in the form of Buddha Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha in South East Asian Art.
Buddha statues are not supposed to be portraits of the actual Buddha and are not created to be his likeness. The vast number of different styles of Buddha statues would be difficult to explain if that was the idea behind it. Buddha images are a reminder of the teachings of the Buddha and the principles of Buddhism. The purpose is not to remember the person but the doctrine. In the early years of Buddhism stupas, built over a relic of the Buddha (like a hair or tooth), served as reminders of the Buddha’s teachings. The earliest Buddha images are app. 2000 years old. The Buddha images have very different appearances in different countries and regions, differing in poses, facial and body features, materials used and different levels of craftsmen’s skills. They all have in common, however, that they are not a man, but the „doctrine in human form“.
South East Asian Buddha images come in 4 main positions: sitting, standing, walking and reclining.
The walking style is by far the rarest, mostly found in the Sukothai period in Thailand and to an even smaller extent in later Thai and Lao sculptures. The reclining position also doesn’t come in much variation, though it can be found in most countries and periods. The standing and sitting positions have a large number of different poses each. The most common poses of the standing Buddha are: Pacifying the Ocean, Stop fighting, Disclosing the 3 worlds and Holding an Alms bowl.
The most common poses of the sitting Buddha are: Calling the Earth to Witness, Protected by Muchalinda and Meditation. Besides these poses with crossed legs the rare „western style“, in which the Buddha sits in western style on a throne or tree trunk can be found.
Many more poses for standing and sitting Buddha images exist, but they are far less common in South East Asian Art than the ones shown here. Again, for East Asian and Himalayan Art, other poses are more popular.
The most common materials are stone, bronze (including gold and silver) and wood, however materials like terracotta, papermaché, ivory and glass are found as well. Wooden images are much less likely to survive the elements for a long time, so wooden images over 200- 250 years are rare. Bronze comes in many different alloy compositions that give the sculpture its decisive patina and helps to identify an image.
In identifying and dating a Buddha image, the following factors (among others) have to be taken into consideration. The stylistic details (flame, hair, head, face, eyebrows, ears, mouth, neck, shoulders, hands, arms, body, feet), the pedestal, the pose, the material and especially for bronze images, the alloy composition, weight, sound, casting core inside the image, the patina, the lacquer and gilding remnants and many more.