ST1142 BRONZE PHRA MALAI VISITING HELL


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ST1142 BRONZE PHRA MALAI VISITING HELL
THAILAND, BANGKOK STYLE, RATANAKOSIN PEIOD
SECOND HALF OF THE 19TH CENTURY
H. 28 CMS, 11 INS
An exceptionally fine, gilded and lacquered bronze figure of the venerable monk Phra Malai visiting hell, with a serene expression and carrying his alms bowl over his shoulder, standing on a square pedestal with a vat of skulls stewing at his feet while demonic creatures and denizens of the underworld clamber about and beseech him for help, with a skeleton prostrated before him.

Phra Malai was a Buddhist monk who acquired special powers through meditation, enabling him to visit heaven and hell. He subsequently returned to earth and began to preach that our actions in life would lead to either future suffering or to happiness.

For two bronze examples of Phra Malai of similar date and style in the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, see cat. nos. 94 and 95 in Forrest McGill (ed.), Emerald Cities: Arts of Siam and Burma, 1775-1950, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, 2009. Cat. no. 95 is almost identical to this example. The San Francisco Museum also has an illustrated manuscript with scenes from the Phra Malai story- see cat. no. 93 ibid. For a detailed and fascinating discussion of a similar bronze in the Rietberg Museum, Zurich, see A. B. Griswold, A Warning to Evildoers, Artibus Asiae, Vol. 20, No. 1 (1957), pp. 18-28.

Provenance: Private English collection.