Buddha image and dry lacquer technique

Dry lacquer sculpture of the Buddha, from Rangoon, Burma (Myanmar) late 18th or early 19th century C.E., 18 cm high © Trustees of the British Museum
Dry lacquer sculpture of the Buddha, from Rangoon, Burma (Myanmar) late 18th or early 19th century C.E., 18 cm high © Trustees of the British Museum
Buddhism has been present in Burma from the fifth century AD. Seated, standing and lying images of the Buddha were made in stone, metal, wood and lacquer for worship in temples. This large Buddha image is seated in the lotus position with the legs crossed and the left hand placed in his lap. In the fingers of his right hand is a myrobalan, a small fruit with medicinal properties. Legend tells how the Buddha received this fruit from the god Indra shortly after attaining enlightenment. Images of the Buddha as a healer holding the myrobalan are unusual outside Myanmar.
This image has been made using the dry lacquer technique. The approximate outline of the finished sculpture is made from clay. Over this is laid strips of cloth which have been impregnated with lacquer sap. This is then covered with further layers of lacquer sap and lacquer putty (sap mixed with sawdust), with final details finished separately and then attached. Once the layers of lacquer are set, the clay core can be removed. Lacquer has been used to make Buddha images and other objects for many centuries in Burma and continues to this day.
The wooden and lacquered throne is a modern replacement for the lost original; it was commissioned by the Museum in Mandalay in 1995.

Additional resources:
P. Rawson, The Art of Southeast Asia (London, Thames and Hudson, 1967)
© Trustees of the British Museum