- Museum number
Seated, dry lacquer Buddha offering a medicinal fruit (myrobalan) with his right hand. The Buddha sits cross-legged in the lotus position (padmasana). The face is oval and wider at the temples than at the chin, and head is slightly squared. A low ushnisha (cranial bump representing wisdom) is surmounted by a bud-shaped finial typical of the time. A thin fillet separates the small hair curls from the broad, high forehead. The eyebrows are moderately arched, and the image has almond-shaped, downcast eyes. The smile is slight, and the face is framed by large, two-part ears that touch the shoulders. The broad shoulders and slim torso may indicate a connection with the Shan States. The robes have ruffled edges, a decorative technique that developed during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The plinth has a running scroll of leaves and full-blown blossom, as well as a row of small lotus petals.
The figure was made by constructing a wooden armature over which cloth was arranged in the appropriate shape. The assemblage was lacquered. Thayo (lacquer putty) details, such as the hair and the ruffles of the robes, were moulded and attached. There are also inlaid pieces of shell and carved wooden elements, such as the finial. Finally, the sculpture was gilded and lacquered in appropriate colours.
- Production date
Height: 276 centimetres (approx, on base)
Height: 180 centimetres (approximately)
Width: 194 centimetres (on base)
Width: 127.50 centimetres
Depth: 188.50 centimetres (on base)
Depth: 90 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Captain Frederick Marryat (1792-1848) is best remembered today as the author of Mr Midshipman Easy and The Children of the New Forest, but as a young man he served in the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-25). While there he formed a high opinion of the Burmese, especially of their war-, and navigation-skills and later wrote admiringly about them and of his experiences there. While in Burma he acquired a huge collection of artefacts which, on his return he offered to the British Museum as a gift, on condition that he - like other major donors of the period - was made a Life Trustee and that the trusteeship should pass down through his family (vide Townley). The Trustees declined his offer, possibly for class reasons. His collection was, the next year, displayed at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly where it was reported on. Later, parts of it were also displayed at the RAS where it was described by the diarist the Revd. John Skinner (illustrated manuscript now in the British Library). The collection included the State Carriage of the King of Burma (captured in Tenasserim) as well as a massive royal throne; both these two items are illustrated in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. The collection was also extremely rich in Buddha images as well as weapons - amongst much else. Sadly, knowledge of the whereabouts of the collection has been los. A complete list of the collection survives in the British Museum Archive. Marryat’s collecting is of interest intellectually as it was on both a grand and an encyclopaedic scale. He responded to the opportunity – he was amongst the very first Englishmen to do so in Burma – to try to understand a newly encountered part of the world through that country’s material record. He was rare in his time in that he acknowledged the equal or even superior quality of the Burmese in certain areas of life. Marryat’s writings and his collecting both indicate a sensibility akin to that of Stamford Raffles and Edward Moor whose collections from South and Southeast Asia are also highlighted in the King’s Library.
Isaacs and Blurton 2000:
Hollow lacquer sculptures of this size are most unusual, especially in collections outside Burma. The sculpture has a remarkable history as it has been in the British Museum since immediately after the First Anglo-Burmese War of 1825. Captain Marryat, who donated the sculpture to the Museum, took part in the war, most of which was fought in Lower Burma (hence the suggested provenance for the sculpture). In later years he wrote a number of books, including a volume of reminiscences of his time in Burma. However, there is no record of this extraordinary image in those writings, and by the time he displayed his other Burmese antiquities to the public in 1827, this image was already in old Montagu House, the building that functioned as the museum prior to construction of the present building in the 1830s and 1840s. In that first building the sculpture was to be seen on the main staircase, close to the giraffes! It is described in the Museum's Book of Presents as 'A Colossal Figure of Gaudma, a Burmese deity from Rangoon'. It is difficult to assess the importance of the provenance provided here as anything brought out of Burma after the campaign would have come 'from Rangoon'.
There has been some discussion as to the meaning of its iconography, and in connection with another sculpture where the Buddha holds a similar fruit, Zwalf has drawn attention to the fact that the myrobalan fruit has medicinal properties, that the 'Buddha as healer is an old and widespread concept...' and that 'the "historical" Buddha is also recorded as having received a myrobalan fruit from the god Indra after the Enlightenment. The way in which the fruit appears as if being proffered to the devotee inclines the present authors to the first explanation, but there is no categoric evidence to support this.
The scalloped edge to the robe is also seen in a smaller dry-lacquer Buddha image in the Victoria and Albert Museum (IS 21 & A-1970) illustrated in Lowry 1974: 17. It is dated 'Possibly 17th century', though without any corroborative information.
For discussion of provenance, see Ralph Isaacs, "Captain Marryat's Burmese collection and the Rath, or Burmese Imperial State Carriage", 'Journal of the History of Collections', vol. 17, no. 1 (2005), pp. 45-71.
The carved and lacquered wooden base was made for the sculpture in Mandalay in 1994.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2000 Apr - 2000 Aug, BM, 'Visions from the Golden Land: Burma and the Art of Lacquer.'
2001 Dec - 2002 Feb, Exeter, Royal Albert Memorial Museum, 'Visions from the Golden Land: Burma and the Art of Lacquer.'
Also shown later in the same tour at Sunderland Museum.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Acquired by the donor in Yangon (Rangoon).
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: 1880.3463