Bronze seated Buddha (14th-15th century)
Bronze seated Buddha (14th-15th century)

The Thais learned the art of bronze casting from the Indians. During the early centuries A.D., Indian culture totally dominated Thailand, and indeed most of South Asia, bringing with it Hindu and, later, Buddhist religion and art.

In Thailand, the Indian Buddha image was influenced by Khmer and Burmese art to emerge as a unique style in the Sukhotai period (13th to 15th centuries). Most of the Sukkhotai images are seated and almost always the right hand is in the bhumispara mudra (“Calling the Earth to Witness” gesture).

Sukhotai sculptors created a few reclining and standing Buddhas but their outstanding achievement was the Walking Buddha. This figure, with its very long arms and diaphanous robes, appears almost to float rather than walk.

The spirituality of the Sukhotai sculpture was replaced during the Ayutthayan period (16th to 18th centuries) by a more monumental art. The concern was not with spirituality but with power. This reflects the mode of kingship adopted by the Thai royalty during this period. The monarchs claimed to be gods and sequestered themselves in their palaces, forbidding their subjects to look at them or even mention their name.

In an attempt to reflect the power of their kings, the Ayutthayan sculptors fashioned gargantuan images, like the 28 metre long, stucco-covered brick reclining Buddha at Wat Lokaysatha.

The Burmese invasion of 1767 destroyed Ayutthaya and most of its art.

The first three reigns of the succeeding Bangkok period were characterised by an attempt to recreate that lost heritage. In sculpture, the early Bangkok period works reflect the old Ayutthayan style but on an even more gargantuan scale. – like the 45 metre long reclining gilt Buddha at the old site of Ayutthaya.

In 1851, King Rama IV ascended the throne and began a series of political and social reforms intended to bring Thailand into the modern era. From this time a new rationalism appears in Thai art, with realistic portrait sculptures, as well as simpler Buddha images, being produced.

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