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An image of Head of Buddha by


Head of Buddha
Place of origin
Sukothai period 1200 - circa 1400 → Thailand
14th century
Media category
Materials used

26.0 x 16.0 x 16.5 cm

Signature & date
Not signed. Not dated.
Watson Bequest Fund 1963
Accession number
Upper Asian gallery
Further information

By the time Buddhism reached Thailand, its images were well defined and governed by prescribed canons. In an absorbing story of permutation and evolution, Thai sculptors of the Sukhothai period (1200-1400) created a transcendental and unique statement about the spirituality of Buddha within the canonical framework. The 32 major and 80 minor anatomical characteristics necessary to create a true Buddha image include the cranial protuberance symbolic of Buddha's supernatural wisdom; the elongated earlobes signifying his princely birth; the spiral curls symbolic of his great renunciation of cutting off his princely locks; a nose like a parrot's beak; and rounded chin like a lime or mango stone. The high flame finial which would have been attached to the crown of this figure, an innovation adopted from Sri Lanka, but now synonymous with the classic Thai style, is the Fire of Knowledge that burns away selfhood, ignorance and suffering. Sukhothai sculptors preferred bronze as their medium and achieved their greatest triumphs with it. Motivated by the belief that the more perfect the statue the stronger its power, they were driven to create such distillations of condensed spirituality as that captured here.

'Asian Art', AGNSW Collections, 1994, pg. 182.

Bibliography (11)

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales picturebook, Sydney, 1972, 134 (colour illus.).

Christine France, Art and Australia (Vol. 37, No. 1), 'A Matter of Taste', pg. 75-81, North Ryde, 1999, 81 (colour illus.).

Robert Haines (Director), Sculpture and Ceramics from Thailand and the surrounding countires (July 23- August 14, 1963), Sydney, 1963. cat no. 25

Jane Hampson, Look, 'The many faces of Buddha', pg. 22, South Yarra, Mar 2001, 22 (colour illus.).

Reginald Le May, A concise history of Buddhist art in Siam, Japan, 1963.

Jackie Menzies, The Art Gallery of New South Wales collections, 'Asian Art - India, South-East Asia, China, Tibet, Korea, Japan', pg. 173-228, Sydney, 1994, 182 (colour illus.).

Jackie Menzies (Co-ordinator), The arts of Buddhism, Sydney, 2001, inside cover (colour illus.).

Jackie Menzies (Editor), The Asian Collections Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2003, 325 (colour illus.).

Hal Missingham (Editor), Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly, Sydney, Apr 1964, (illus.).

Judith White, Look, 'A landmark for the city', pg. 16-19, South Yarra, Apr 2001, 16 (colour illus.).

Author Unknown, Sunday telegraph, Sydney, 28 Jul 1963, (illus.).

Exhibition history (3)

Sculpture and Ceramics from Thailand (1963), David Jones' Art Gallery, Sydney, Sydney, 23 Jul 1963–14 Aug 1963

A survey of Indian art (1967), Fisher Library, University of Sydney, Sydney, 06 Sep 1967–23 Sep 1967

Conversations through the Asian collections, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 25 Oct 2014–05 Sep 2015