Recently, I found myself casting an ancient Buddha replica. I have worked in film and theatre as a propmaker, so I’m not completely new to recreating historical pieces. However, this is the closest I have been to replicating an actual museum piece. It was an honour to be able to do so. But how did I find myself doing this? I’m not an antique restorer or conservationist, nor do I work in a museum.
This is the type of story you hear about on the Antiques Road Show! And most of it happened before I was even born!
A Grandmother with good instinct.
My Grandma, Celia, had an eye for antiques and design. Also, she liked shopping. I remember many a shopping expedition with her as a kid.
Whilst on holiday – I’m guessing this must have been in the 50s or 60s, she returned from a browse around some local shops, waxing lyrical about a bronze statue she had seen. in a junk store She didn’t buy it – it wasn’t that cheap and she wasn’t sure if my Grandpa, Harold, would approve.
Before they returned from their trip however, her friend Joan, who had been with her, bought it anyway. She gifted it to Celia and, in turn, Harold gifted another piece, costing £60, to Joan.
An Exhibition Piece
As I said, Celia had an eye for antiques. She suspected she didn’t have a modern reproduction on her hands, so she got the statue appraised by an expert. And wow. It wasn’t just antique, it was ancient!
The Buddha was estimated to have been made in the 11th or 12th Century in Burma. How’s that for a junk shop find?
During Celia and Harold’s ownership of teh Buddha, it was exhibited by Spink. The Exhibition was in 1970 and was called “Indian Influence on Art in South East Asia.”
The photo to the left shows the cover of the Exhibition book, and the photo below is the acknowledgment and thanks written to the various people that loaned artefacts to the exhibition, Mr and Mrs Harold Lee included.
During the recession (I’m assuming during the 1980s), they decided to sell it. It was far too valuable to keep, in the circumstances. But before they put it up for auction, they had a bronze replica cast. This would have cost a fraction of the value of the original to make, and they wanted a reminder of Celia’s fantastic find.
My grandparents both passed away in the 2000s, and my Mother now has the replica. I only found out about this wonderful family story relatively recently, and I thought it was fascinating – not just because it’s my family, but also because I once studied Anthropology and studying human-made artefacts was part of that course.
The Buddha replica now sits in my parents’ house. You can see a photograph of it at the beginning of this blog.
The replica is cast from Bronze and is displayed next to an original copy of the aforementioned book published by Spink for the exhibition. The book is titled “Exhibition: Indian Influence on Art in South-East Asia”. It’s full of photographs of beautiful ancient relics – mainly statues, including a couple of others representing Buddha.
The book is now displayed open at the page shown above, and the caption (which I have highlighted with a black border) reads:
“Bronze Figure of the Buddha seated in yogasana. In his ushnisha is an inverted heart-shaped setting for a jewel. In the middle of his back is a flange for supporting the prabha
Pagan, 11th / 12th century. Burma
Height: 131/2 inches (34.25cm)”
FYI – so you don’t have to go for a google:
Yogasana is a seated posture used in Hatha Yoga; specifically a cross-legged, meditative posture typically assumed by the Buddha in iconographic depictions.
Ushnisha is the cranial bump atop the head of Buddha. It symbolises the expanded wisdom the Buddha, attained at the time of his enlightenment.
I struggled to find a clear definition of a Prahba. It seems to be the design surrounding the statue. Often found on Hindu and Buddhist statues, and can be arch shaped, round, rectangular or something a bit more elaborate Please correct me if I’m wrong – I’d love to be sure.
Making the ancient buddha replica.
Recently a mould was taken of the bronze replica so that a friend of my family’s could get a bronze copy cast. My parents were given the silicon mould. I was looking for some ornamental objects with which to style some photos for my other venture, Chez Chien Dog Dens.
I spotted the mould and thought – well, I have some materials that I want to use up – this is the perfect project! So I cast myself a copy of the Buddha.
I had a hard time deciding what finish to go with, Should I try to make it look like our replica, which is a deep dark Bronze? I knew whichever finish i went with, it would be an aged look – that’s just my aesthetic. But did I want gold? Silver? Bronze? Copper? I decided on the same finish that I use for my antique gold mouldings. I could always do another later on.
It turned out very nicely, though I confess I did rather make a mistake by removing material under Buddha’s left arm. I like the result, but I should probably have kept it more original.
What became of the original?
The big question I kept asking myself was – what has become of it? Where is Buddha now? Who bought it? So, of course, as we all do these days, I took to google in the hope I might find something.
And find something I did! Very quickly. A search for “Spink Exhibition 1970” turned up what looks very much like the same statue – now part of the British Museum’s Collection!
He’s even got the same flange on the back and the place for the jewel at the top of the ushnesha
The curator’s comment is:
“One of the finest known Burmese bronzes of the Pagan period, this piece reflects the powerful influence of eastern India and particularly the adaptation of a stylistic current in the Bodh Gayā region. The broad forehead, slightly Mongoloid eyes, tapering face so that the chin appears to be coming to a point, together with the form of the high ‘uṣṇīṣa’, which once held a precious or semi-precious stone, all help to distinguish this Buddha from the styles of Bihar and Bengal.
A strut at the back of the image suggests a lost backplate; both may have rested on a sculpted pedestal. The gesture of the right hand, symbolising the Enlightenment, became by far the commonest in Burmese Buddha images. Zwalf, 1985″
Above is a photograph (© The Trustees of the British Museum) of the original Buddha, now part of the British Museum’s Collection.
Click this link to see more pictures on the British Museum website
It has been re-estimated to have originated in the 12th or 13th Century – but what’s a hundred years between friends eh? It truly is a fascinating piece.
And my Grandmother found it in an junk shop!
The bronze copy and the resin copy may just be ancient artefact replicas, and relatively valueless, but to me they represent just a little bit of my family history, so they are pretty special. It’s been very interesting to find out a bit more about the Buddha and what became of the original.
This is obviously a very personal story for me since it involves my family, but I hope you find it interesting too.
Thanks for reading!