Bodhisattva Maitreya or Avalokiteshvara

Historical period(s)
Dvaravati period, 7th century
Copper alloy with high tin content and silver inlay
H x W x D: 35 × 9.8 × 7 cm (13 3/4 × 3 7/8 × 2 3/4 in)
Thailand, Buriram province, Lahansai district
Credit Line
Gift of Ann and Gilbert Kinney
Arthur M. Sackler Collection
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Metalwork, Sculpture

Figure: bodhisattva

Avalokitesvara, Buddhism, Dvaravati period (ca. 500 - 900), Maitreya Buddha, Thailand

Reportedly unearthed by two villagers near Prakhon Chai, Thailand [1]

Ownership information unknown

Before 1971-?
John and Emma Bunker, method of acquisition unknown [2]

Carter Burden (1941-1996), method of acquisition unknown [3]

Sale, New York, Sotheby's, "Indian and Southeast Asian Art," March 27, 1991, lot 187 [4]

Unknown collector, purchased at Sotheby's sale [5]

Sale, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, Christie's, "Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art," October 12, 2004, lot 123 [6]

Unknown collector, purchased at Christie's sale [7]

Sale, New York, Sotheby's, "Indian & Southeast Asian Works of Art," September 19, 2008, lot 291 [8]

Ann (Rasmussen) and Gilbert H. Kinney (1931-2020), purchased at Sotheby's sale [9]

From 2015
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, gift Ann and Gilbert H. Kinney [10]

[1] This sculpture is likely one of the thirty-four bronze works unearthed in 1964 by two villagers near Prakhon Chai in the southern part of modern-day Buriram province, Thailand. The sculpture has the characteristic stylistic features -- such as slender legs and ascetic matted hair -- seen in the other sculptures identified from the group. Scientific analysis of the metal showed a high tin content, which is also typical of bronzes from this area, thereby further suggesting the sculpture is part of the Prakhon Chai (or Prasat Hin Khao Plai Bat II) group.

The sculptures were excavated in and around a pit running east to west along the inside of the outer south wall of the Prasat Hin Khao Plai Bat II temple precinct. At the time of the discovery the exact location of the site was unknown. In 1967 Boisselier published an article arguing that the bronzes were found in Prakhon Chai, a city situated 40 kilometers from the Prasat Hin Khao Plai Bat II temple. Before 2002 the group was known as "Prakhon Chai." See Emma C. Bunker, "The Prakhon Chai Story: Facts and Fiction," in Arts of Asia, vol. 2, no. 2 (2002) 122-124. The bronzes were hidden during a time of religious instability; their careful burial (some were wrapped in cloth) suggests that they were to be recovered at some later date. This sculpture was first identified as part of the group from Prakhon Chai in 1971 when published in Emma C. Bunker, "Pre-Angkor Period Bronzes from Pra Kon Chai" in "Archives of Asian Art" vol 25 (1971/1972), 73. This article discusses the group of pre-Angkor bronzes unearthed at Prakhon Chai, Thailand in 1964 and subsequently dispersed to public and private collections.

[2] Emma Bunker published the sculpture with accompanying information that it was in "Mr. and Mrs. John Bunker Collection. See note 1. According to Ann Kinney's notes, Emma Bunker stated that she had owned the piece prior to 1971.

[3] See note 4. Carter Burden was a collector, bibliophile, businessman, politician, publisher, founder of a broadcasting empire Commodore Media, and benefactor of the arts, including the New York Public Library, the Morgan Library, and the New York City Ballet, as well as the Burden Center for the Aging in Yorkville, which he established and helped finance.

[4] See Sotheby's New York, "Indian and Southeast Asian Art" [auction catalogue] (March 27, 1991), lot 187. Carter Burden is listed as the owner.

[5] See Christie's Amsterdam, "Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art," [auction catalogue] (October 12, 2004) lot 123. The owner is not listed.

[6] See note 5.

[7] See note 8.

[8] Sotheby's New York, "Indian & Southeast Asian Works of Art," [auction catalogue] (September 19, 2008), lot 291. The owner is not listed.

[9] Ann Kinney and Gilbert H. Kinney purchased this sculpture during the Sotheby's, New York auction on September 19, 2008. See object file.

[10] See Acquisition Consideration Form, object file.

Research completed on February 13, 2014.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Ann Kinney
Carter Burden
John B. Bunker and Emma C. Bunker
Gilbert H. Kinney 1931-2020


Bodhisattvas are spiritually advanced beings who postpone ultimate enlightenment in order to alleviate suffering on earth. This one's matted locks, which signify asceticism in both India and Southeast Asia, are piled high and wonderfully draped like an elaborate crown. In his left hand he holds a water vessel, while his right hand probably held a separately cast lotus bud. He stands in a gently swayed posture, his weight on the right leg, with his left knee bent. His humble sampot (Cambodian waistcloth) is tied with a simple cord, and he wears no other adornments.

The bronze represents either Maitreya or Avalokiteshvara. The two bodhisattvas were almost identically depicted during the pre-Angkor period. They usually were represented standing, with either two or four arms and holding a kundika (water vessel) in one of their left hands. The only way to distinguish them is by the attribute in their headdress: Maitreya's emblem is the stupa, Avalokiteshvara's is the Buddha Amitabha. Due to the erosion of the bronze surface, it has proved impossible to securely identify the symbol in the headdress in this particular bronze.

In the ninth century, during a period of religious instability in northeastern Thailand, this sculpture was carefully buried along with other Buddhist bronzes at sites across the Khorat plateau. Discovered in 1964, the hoard has since become dispersed across museum collections. Interestingly, all bodhisattvas from this group are depicted as renunciants. This differs from early Indian bodhisattvas, which always have a regal appearance, as well as bodhisattvas from elsewhere in Southeast Asia, which have either regal or ascetic appearances. The bodhisattvas belonging to the Prasat Hin Khao Plai Bat hoard therefore may reveal the existence of a previously unknown regional style, and possibly an important temple-complex with a unique bodhisattva cult, between the seventh and ninth centuries on Thailand's Khorat plateau.


Published References
  • Paths to Perfection, Buddhist Art at the Freer/Sackler. Washington. pp. 76-77.
Collection Area(s)
Southeast Asian Art
Web Resources
F|S Southeast Asia
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