Gilt Bronze Buddha Statues

Introduction

In Asia, gilded bronze figures are found in the Himalayan cultures of India, Tibet, and Nepal; China, Japan, Thailand, Korea, and other Asian societies. Gilded bronze figures are the apogee of metal sculpture. Most figures have some devotional purposes. Images are often distinguished by their attributes, which are physical characteristics that represent an element of their personality, protective powers, or emotions. For example, A vengeful figure will often have a grimacing expression; a benevolent figure, an expression of calm and quiet dignity. Protective figures will sometimes brandish swords or other weapons. In addition to the appearance, figures are often associated with legends, stories of great accomplishments that are represented by symbolic imagery that is meant to remind the viewer of the event.

In ancient times, Gilding bronze can be accomplished by Mercury gilding skill which is achieved by an amalgam of mercury mixed with gold, which is heated in a furnace where the mercury evaporates, leaving the gold on the surface. Once the gold has been annealed to the surface, it is polished, resulting in a resplendent shine. A less costly and less complicated process covers the bronze with thin sheets of gold under a transparent or burgundy lacquer surface. Nowadays, this technique is not adopted widely due to its pollution of environment.

Ritual hand gestures, called Mudra, originated from dance, where positioning the hands and fingers in a specific manner would have an effect on the dancer and also convey meaning to the viewer. Many Asian bronze figures have the hands displaying a particular Mudra. One of the most often seen is the Abhaya Mudra, formed by raising the right hand to shoulder height with the arm bent and palm facing forward with the fingers joined and pointing up, while the other arm is hanging down at the side of the figure. This Mudra represents peace, protection and the dispelling of fear.

One of the helpful identifying characteristics of gilt bronze figures, in addition to the imagery of the figure, is the base upon which the figure stands. In Tibet and China, these bases are often embellished with borders of upright lotus leaves, and in many instances the base itself is in the shape of a lotus leaf. In Tibetan and other Himalayan cultures, it is also common to find the underside of the base with a thin metal cover, incised with a Vajra or Dorje symbol, and within this sealed base is often contained a paper inscribed with a prayer.

Buddha

The iconic gilt bronze statues is Buddha, a person who has reached an understanding of the world and universe in which we live, and who exists to lead others to the same state of understanding. Some figures depict the historical Buddha, a prince who lived in the 5th/6th century B.C.E., but others represent an idealized Buddha. Most figures of Buddha are seated with legs crossed on a raised base. Images of Buddha usually wear a double robe, often with an incised foliate decorated border and have long, pendulous ears and a cranial bump, called an Ushnisha. The hair is tightly coiled and often has a raised bump above the eyes in the center of the forehead, called the Urna, and the hands are raised in a mudra.

Although most figures of Buddha are sitting, in Thailand and other South Asian societies, figures of Buddha are often standing, reclining or walking, and unlike the figures of China, Japan, or the Himalayan cultures, the cranial bump is sometimes augmented by a spike or spire.