Organizer and Chair: Richard M. Cooler, Northern Illinois University
The art of Burma is among the least known of the artistic traditions of Southeast Asia. Researchers are in the process of articulating those characteristics which define Burmese art and establishing how it developed over time. The papers in this panel use different approaches to address problems of specifying those characteristics which set Burmese art apart during different time periods from that of India and other Southeast Asian nations. The first paper examines the Indian origins of the art of the early Pyu civilization and proposes that they are most similar to those for the Mon Dvaravati arts of Thailand during the seventh century. The second paper examines the advent of a unique iconographic type particular to the Pagan Period Reign of King Kyanzittha by setting it within its cultural milieu and in so doing establishes a major sea change in the depiction of the Buddha in Burma. The third paper looks at the detailed representations of events in the Buddha's life as depicted on a silver bowl and examines the form, decoration, date, and selection of scenes in determining its particular use in Burmese Buddhism. All three of these papers contribute to establishing the parameters of aesthetic development in the art of Burma.
Kyanzittha's Standing Image of the Buddha
Richard M. Cooler, Northern Illinois University
The conservative nature of orthodox Buddhist iconography makes the advent of a new
visual type an event of major art historical importance. This paper examines the context
and meaning of one such innovation: the standing image of Gautama Buddha with his hands in
the position of dharma chakra mudra, "turning the wheel of the law," a
gesture symbolizing the First Sermon. Seated images with hands in this position are
common. Standing images occur only in Burma during the reign of King Kyanzittha-the two
which occur in the Ananda temple are colossal (over 30 feet) and are among the most highly
revered and memorable at Pagan. Smaller stone examples of this rare type appear in the
Nagayon temple as well as the earlier Kyauk ku Onhmin where such an image was stolen in
1988 and recently recovered through the efforts of the Center for Burma Studies, N.I.U.
This paper examines the origins, meaning and efficacy of the image type, the emblemata of
the golden age of Pagan.
Telling Lives: Narrative Allegory on a Burmese Silver Bowl
Robert S. Wicks, Miami University, Ohio
Anna Barbara Grey, M.D. served as a medical missionary in Burma between 1922 and 1957. At the end of her tenure she was presented with a large silver bowl by the Burmese Baptist Church. On the sides of the bowl are six narrative scenes. This paper explores the relationship between the subject of the narrative found on the bowl and the life of Dr. Grey. It also examines other examples of Burmese narrative art which possibly served as models for the bowl.
Sources, Dates, and Relationships for the Art of the Pyu
Robert L. Brown, University of California, Los Angeles
The Pyu and the Mon had founded states in Burma during the first millennium CE, before the coming of the Burmese. Both groups were Indianized, producing art associated with Buddhism and Hinduism. Yet, of all the early Indianized states of Mainland Southeast Asia, these two in Burma are the least studied and the least understood. My paper addresses two issues, the possible sources and dates for the art of the Pyu. For sources, I look at the art in India, Sri Lanka, and the Mon Dvaravati art of neighboring Thailand. Concentrating on sculpture from Sri Ksetra (near modern Prome), the South Asian sources appear distressingly diverse, yet the predominant relationship is, surprisingly considering Burma's border with Northeast India, with Southern India and, particularly, with Sri Lanka. I then argue that the Pyu sculpture does not date earlier than the seventh century. Turning to the east, I find that the Pyu sculpture can be related to the Mon Dvaravati of the seventh century in a number of specifically shared Southeast Asian characteristics, suggesting that Sri Ksetra and Dvaravati were using Indian sources in a similar manner. I end by suggesting that the seventh century is somehow a key century for Indianized art of Mainland Southeast Asia, and that it is Sri Lanka (or Southern India?) that supplies new artistic, religious, and cultural influences.