Monday, February 27, 2012

art communion: buddha

Last week's art communion was with this glowing Buddha Shakyamuni from Burma (early 20th century). He stands in a dimly lit gallery devoted to images of the Buddha in modern Theravada traditions, and is one of many artworks here that were commissioned and donated to Buddhist temples and monasteries to bring merit to the donor and their loved ones on special occasions. This may explain why this figure is more ornate than one might usually expect from a Buddhist sculpture. He's carved from wood, gilded with shimmery gold, and inlaid with glass details in his robes and headband. He's somewhat opulent; perhaps as a way of showing the dedication and devotion of those who donated him to the temple. Of course you always want to give the very best.

This Buddha is exceedingly graceful, and perhaps even gracious in his pose. His elegant drapery hangs loosely on his long slender frame, and his delicate hands hold his garment out almost in a gesture of courtsey. Although his body is slight, his face is still pleasantly round with folds of flesh under his chin. The reddish pigment combined with the gold gives him a very warm, earthy appearance, embellished with small blue flowers of inlaid glass. His bare feet stand upon a lotus blossom. Perhaps due simply to the passage of time, his face retains the most gilding, and is thus his most radiant feature, with that ever-present gentle smile of transcendence.

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