Southeast Asia, Burma, ca. late 19th to early 20th century CE. Wow! A dramatic pair of carved wooden figures, once part of a group of four who illustrated an important component in the life story of Buddha. The figure with the umbrella represents the "old man" of this story, while the other figure is the "sick man". The "old man" may also be the "monk" of the story - he holds the possessions of a learned wanderer: an umbrella, a few items in a pouch on his shoulder cloth, and a book in his left hand. His body is thin, with clearly delineated ribs, and he has a sunken chest and a lined face. The "sick man" is even more skeletal aside from a paunch, with a hunched back. He leans against a tall cane, his large, painful-looking knees visible beneath the cloth wrapped around his waist. His gaunt face and sparse hair speaks to his suffering. Size of the "sick man" (they are similar in size but this one is slightly larger): 11.25" W x 55" H (28.6 cm x 139.7 cm)
The "old man" has an inscription on the base of his figure which reads: "Iegaung Saya Htun", probably the personal name of the donor who gave money to a temple to have these statues carved. The Buddha-carita, Buddha's biography, tells of the time he met four people: an old man, a sick man, a monk, and a corpse. Buddha - then Prince Siddhartha - realized the reality of death and pain through these meetings, prompting him to abandon his opulent palace and loving family in order to seek Enlightenment and a way to end suffering. Although figures depicting this story are common in Burma, it is rare to find them of this size and quality!
A radiocarbon dating report from Rafter Radiocarbon accompanies this piece, showing that they are of the age stated.
Provenance: private Nevada, USA collection; ex-Mark Johnson collection
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Both are composed of multiple pieces of wood and the joints between them are visible. The surfaces are weathered, with chips, nicks, scratches, and small losses as well as some fading/loss to the pigment as shown. The one with hair is missing much of the hair, which appears to have been cut.