buddhist art


The kingdom of Lanna and the Lanna style of Buddha images emerged in Northern Thailand (between Burma, Laos and Sukothai) around the same time as their Sukothai neighbors to the South. The Lanna kingdom had close connections to Lanxiang (Laos), consisted of many local centers and rulers and, consequently, had a large number of different schools of Buddha images. Originally it developed from Indian Pala style and was influenced by Sukothai in the 14th century.

Buddha statues are mainly made of bronze (except in Haripunchai and Payao schools), older statues are quite thick but over time and especially since the 16th century some outstanding statues with very thin alloy were cast, mostly due to the fact that precious materials were used, such as gold and nak. Nak is a gold and copper alloy, mostly translated into English as ?pink gold?, that can only be found in Lanna and Lanxiang (Lao) Buddha images. Its high gold content prevents the alloy from developing much of a patina, like cheaper metals do. Since it is unique to these areas and even there not very often used, it is a valuable and highly desirable collector?s item. The soil used for casting Buddha images in Lanna has a characteristic black color because of the rice peel mixed into it.

The kingdom of Lanna started to flourish in the 14th century until the destruction of its capital, Chiang Mai, by the Burmese. The most popular Lanna statues are from the 14th to 16th century. From the 17th to19th century the level of craftsmanship declined, bronze was to some extent replaced by wood and decline continued until Lanna was incorporated into Siam in the late 19th century. In the late 16 and 17th century, Lanxiang (Lao) influence was strong.

The different schools of Lanna are:

Chiang Saen or Chiang Mai school with rounded faces and short, strong, athletic, almost chubby bodies, very big hair curls, a short, rounded flame and a shoulder cloth down to the nipple (until 14th century) and down to the navel (15th century). In the 16th century the body becomes more elegant, the flame gets longer and more detailed, pedestals become higher and more sophisticated.

Note: The term Chiang Saen is often incorrectly used to describe all of Lanna?s Buddha images. Chiang Saen is only one of many schools and Chiang Saen actually is the wrong name as well, because Chiang Saen was only founded in the 14th century, so it can hardly be the birthplace of a style that started earlier.  The capital of Lanna was Chiang Mai, founded around 1300 and since the most skilled artists normally worked in the capital the name ?Chiang Mai school? or (to include images from former capitals) ?Lanna Nakorn Luang? style would be more appropriate.

Haripunchai school with clear Mon Dvaravati influence, a style which continued even after Haripunchai became a part of the Lanna kingdom in 1292

Phrae and Lampang school, with the characteristic curved upper lip that resembles a flying bird. The face lines are more abstract and a good example of the ?doctrine in human form?.

Fang and Chaiprakan school with characteristic rectangular ears with sharp corners (Fang) and the double hairline (Chaiprakan). Characteristic Chaiprakan patina is a mix of green, brown and red.

Nan school, Payao school, Thai Lue

Prices for Lanna Buddha images are still moderate, except for the 14th and 15th century pieces, but even those are far behind their Sukothai counterparts. The value of later pieces are only high for exceptional individual pieces with respect to material, craftsmanship, patina or size, which are very rare.

Refer to the Buddha Gallery for examples of the different schools . 

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