buddhist art

The Myanmar Kingdom in the heartland of Burma, can be devided into 6 historical periods:

? Pyu, 6th century until 1044 
? Bagan and Post Bagan 1044 ? 1347
? Tungoo 1347 ? 1596
? 2nd/3rd Ava 1596 ? 1789
? Amarapura 1789 ? 1853
? Mandalay 1853 ? 1948

The Bagan period was the cultural peak of the Myanmar kingdom, evident especially by the vast and magnificent temples still visible today in Bagan, which was conquered and destroyed by the Chinese and Tai Yai in 1347. The Buddha images of the Bagan period are a mix of the early Pyu style and the Indian Pala style. Some of the most important characteristics are the small lips, with the lower lip slightly thicker than the upper, the urna on the forehead and the monks robe worn by the standing images. Later in the Bagan Period the faces become more round and the bodies more muscular. The main differences to the Indian Pala images are the materials used. Stone for example was very common in India but hardly used in Burma. With respect to the alloy composition, Bagan bronzes are less golden. Besides bronzes wooden images can be found and votive tablets depicting the Buddha were very popular. Bagan period Buddhas are certainly the most desirable and expensive collectors items of Burmese Art.

After the destruction of Bagan, the Myanmar people struggled for independence. Art of the Tungoo period was influenced by Mon and Tai Yai style, whereas the Pala influece came to an end. The faces of the Bhudda images became rounder and softer with a serene and meditative look and more muscular even plump bodies. The flame (top of the head) became bigger and moved forward, sometimes in the shape of a lotus bud because of the Tai Yai influence. This period is often called Post Bagan. It doesn?t seem accurate, however, to refer to the city of Bagan, that was under Tai Yai control at the time, when describing the style the Myanmar people created when they reesthablished their kingdom with a new capital.

2nd/3rd Ava is the more accurate term compared to just ?Ava? for the following period in the 17th and 18th century, because Ava was the capital of the Tai Yai kingdom until the Myanmar kingdom conquered it and made it its capital. After the Tai Yai kingdom had conquered Bagan, the conquest of Ava by the Myanmar kingdom about 250 years later led to an even more intense exchange of Art and Culture between the two, so the styles became increasingly difficult to distinguish. The following characteristics may help to recognize the 2nd/3rd Ava style, the most important difference to the tai Yai style being the torso, which is more slender in Tai Yai and more well built even plump in the Ava style. The flame looks like a lotus bud or chinese gourd, the forehead is wide with thick temples, the eyes are gazed downwards. Images have small lips with a clear cleft above the upper lip. Like the images from earlier periods they have the head inclined down, a typical Myanmar characteristic. On the other hand, the high bell shaped pedestals are a clear Tai Yai influence. Buddha images from this period are mostly sitting in Touching the Earth pose, other poses are rare. Materials used are predominantly Bronze with a high copper content, wood and marble (that was available in the Ava area but not elsewhere in the Myanmar kingdom, so it was not used before the 17th century.

Amarapura period (1789-1853). When King Bodawpaya founded his new capital Amarapura, he ordered the Mahamuni Buddha, the most sacred image from the Arakan kingdom, to be installed in the royal shrine, thus bringing Arakan influence to the images of this period. Buddha images in the Amarapura period were mostly made of wood and gilded or covered with red laquer and glass inlays. The faces are round, a bit plump and turned downward, the torso is muscular. The robes and knees showed a circular pattern. Amarapura style is a transition style between the 2nd/3rd Ava and Mandalay styles.

Mandalay Art (1853-1948) is by far the most common style associated with ?Burma?, partly for the beautiful soft faces with angel-like expression (similar to the contemporary Thai Rattanakosin style) and partly for the fact that Mandalay Art is still available in the market, even though good pieces are getting difficult to find. The most important characteristic of the Mandalay style is that there is no flame on top of the head. The images are decorated with a full range of ornamentation, but mostly without a crown. Standing images have elaborate flowing robes with the right hand in varada mudra (gift bestowing gesture) and the left hand holding the robe. Wooden images are laquererd or painted with chad (a red color) and decorated with inlaid glass, especially the borders of the hairline and robe. The flowing robes and the more humanlike faces are the so called ?realism? of the Mandalay style. Sitting images have a very low pedastel but are often placed on thrones. Monks and deciples were a very popular object for sculptors and reclining Buddhas were more frequent than before or in neighboring countries. Common materials were wood, marble, bronze and papermach?.

The style of the British colonial time (1885-1948) is usually referred to as Post Mandalay. There are, however, no stylistic differences to the Mandalay period.

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