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HOME : Asian Art : Masterpieces of Asian Art : Khmer Bronze Triad
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Khmer Bronze Triad - H.556
Origin: Cambodia
Circa: 12 th Century AD to 13 th Century AD
Dimensions: 10" (25.4cm) high
Catalogue: V20
Collection: Asian
Medium: Bronze

Location: United States
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The triad consists of a meditating Buddha seated on the coils of a serpent flanked to his left by the feminine deity, Prajnaparamita, and to his right by Lokesvara, “the Lord of the World.”  The base is tiered, and the central figure is elevated—a symbol of sovereignty and pre-eminence in the spiritual realm.  Wearing a full-length skirt drawn together by an ornate belt, Prajnaparamita grasps lotus flowers in her hands with arms raised forward in the teaching mudra.  She is considered the incarnation of the Divine World.  The four-armed Lokesvara assumes an analogous pose, wearing a short dhoti held in place by a belt and holding a lotus bud and a vase.  The central Buddha figure is adorned with armbands, heavy earrings and jeweled necklaces, and a transparent-like robe is incised along the borders that cover the chest and drape over the left shoulder.  All three figures display an introspective dreamy expression implied by the familiar formula of closed eyes and smiling lips.

The Cambodian ideal image of the Buddha evolved during the rise of the empire.  Indebted to the Gupta canon, the massive, spheroid conception of the head became the standard feature of Khmer Buddhist iconography.  The separation of the hairline from the face with a band developed in this period, indicative of the tendency of Khmer sculpture to assume a more hard linear character through clear-cut definition of features.  The appearance of the closed eyes and lips distended into a long mysterious smile became the Khmer formula for indicating the self-contained bliss and serenity of the Enlightened One.  Khmer heads contain a suggestion of personality or individuality within the mould of iconographical convention perhaps due to the custom of attributing these icons to idealized portraits of the reigning monarch in the guise of a devaraja or god-king.

In Khmer sculpture, the prevalence of the iconography of the Buddha seated on the coils of a giant serpent is not entirely a portrayal of the obscure legend of Sakyamuni's encounter with a naga after his enlightenment.  It is a reference to the legend that the nagas or serpent deities were the divine progenitors and protectors of the Cambodian throne. Regardless of whether the state religion was Hindu or Buddhist, the conception of the ruler as the earthly embodiment of the prevailing deity of the realm was an established tenet of the Cambodian belief system.
- (H.556)


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