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Plaque Depicting Episodes from the Life of Shakyamuni Buddha

Asian Art

On View: Asian Galleries, Southwest, 2nd floor
This plaque depicts some of the most important moments in the life of the historical Buddha. At the center, he touches the Earth, a gesture he made just before gaining enlightenment. At the top, he reclines at the moment of his death or entrance into Nirvana. Among the tiny figures on either side is the Buddha’s mother at the moment of his birth, at the lower right; next to her is the Buddha seated under the hoods of the serpent Muchalinda.
MEDIUM Pyrophyllite
  • Place Made: Burma
  • DATES 12th century
    PERIOD Pagan Period
    DIMENSIONS 5 3/4 x 3 3/4 in. (14.6 x 9.5 cm)  (show scale)
    CREDIT LINE Gift of The Roebling Society
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION The stele is dominated by a central figure of the Buddha, seated in dhyanasana (meditation) with his right hand in the bhumisparsa (calling the Earth to witness) gesture and his left one in dhyana mudra. He is seated on a double-petaled lotus supported by two kneeling nagas and a stem of lotus springing from the pancharatha base, which is decorated with elephants and lions. Over the Buddha's head is a Bodhi Tree, and various scenes from his life surround the image, forming on each side three horizontal registers arranged in two vertical columns or sections. It has been suggested (p. Pal, "The Story of a Wandering Bronze Buddha and Two Examples from American Collections", The Connoisseur, Vol. 181 (Nov 1972), 203-207, that while the outer sections represent regular scenes from Buddha's life the six inner events refer to six out of the seven weeks that he spent in meditation under the Bodhi Tree before he attained Enlightenment. The seventh week would, in this case, be represented by the central image. In its style, the stele is based heavily on Pala prototypes, which generally served as a model for the artist. The source for this and related stone reliefs is a matter of conjecture: see G. H. Luce, Old Burma-Early Pagan, 3 vol.s, NY, 1970. More recently, Hiram W. Woodward has writte on the subject: "Burmese Sculpture and India Painting," Chhavi-2, 1981, p. 22, notes 17 and 18, in which he indicates "magical syllables crudely incised in Tibetan script" appear on the reserve of the stele. See also, Woodward, SRAA, V, for his discussion on the India, Pala sources for such steles, and their comparison to Tibetan carvings and paintings. Comparable plaques in U.S. museum collections include: Cleveland Museum of Art (65.27), Asia Society Museum (John D. Rockefeller, 3rd Collection (1979.90), Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard Art Museums (1979.328), Walters Art Museum, U. Michigan Museum, Ann Arbor, BM, V&A, MMA, and private collections. Condition: Very good. There is some wear to the figures. All faces except that of the central Buddah figure are worn. The face of the apsaras at the upper left corner and the Buddha below are both void (old chips). The back is painted red.
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is on view in Asian Galleries, Southwest, 2nd floor
    CAPTION Plaque Depicting Episodes from the Life of Shakyamuni Buddha, 12th century. Pyrophyllite, 5 3/4 x 3 3/4 in. (14.6 x 9.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of The Roebling Society, 82.78. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 82.78_PS2.jpg)
    IMAGE overall, 82.78_PS2.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph, 2011
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    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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     <em>Plaque Depicting Episodes from the Life of Shakyamuni Buddha</em>, 12th century. Pyrophyllite, 5 3/4 x 3 3/4 in. (14.6 x 9.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of The Roebling Society, 82.78. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 82.78_PS2.jpg)