In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Verging on Modernity: A Late Nineteenth-Century Burmese Painting on Cloth Depicting the Vessantara Jataka
  • Gillian Green (bio)

This Burmese painted image was purchased in the Night Market on Chang Klan Road, Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, in November 2009. The style of dress of the principal protagonists is characteristic of the Konbaung Dynasty (1752–1885), confirming its Burmese origin. Its subject, the Vessantara Jataka, is a popular Buddhist theme in Burma and in other parts of Theravada mainland Southeast Asia. In comparison to other paintings on cloth by Burmese artists from the mid-nineteenth century onward, however, the style in which this subject is portrayed is unique. Innovative painterly techniques, composition, and motifs signal that it may belong to a short-lived genre of painting of the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth. Particular circumstances in Burmese life at that time inspired innovative developments, and these painters were in essence the forerunners of a new wave who could be designated “modernists.” This investigation aims to place this “Vessantara painted panel,” as it will be referred to in this article, in a cultural and historical context to determine its provenance and function. [End Page 79]

Detailed Description of the Vessantara Painted Panel

The dimensions of the painted portion are 428 by 82.5 centimeters including the narrow painted yellow border enclosing the composition. It is machine stitched into a floral-print cloth frame, just glimpsed here (fig. 1).1 This cloth frame considerably extends the overall dimensions of the entire panel to 490 by 188 centimeters. Thirty hanging tabs are stitched at 15-centimeter intervals along the upper edge of the panel and five slightly larger hanging tabs are stitched on the lower edge 123 centimeters apart. The paint medium is opaque watercolor. Remnant sequins, severely tarnished, are stitched onto epaulettes, chest- and arm-bands and sleeve edges of some of the painted jackets. Touches of gold paint survive.

The principal individual episodes, arranged from left to right in the painting, portray a number of events in the first seven segments of the complete Vessantara Jataka narrative.2 These are: Vessantara donating the white elephant to the brahmins, indicated by the pouring of water from the water jug (fig. 2); Vessantara and his wife Maddi together with their two children, Jali and Kanhajina, seated to the left of his father, Sanjaya, king of Sivi (fig. 3); Vessantara and his family, expelled from the kingdom, leaving in a coach pulled by two horses, confronted by two brahmins requesting the horses (fig. 4); with his family established in their forest retreat, Vessantara grants an audience to Jujuka, a brahmin who requests the donation of Vessantara’s children as servants for his wife (fig. 5).

Other episodes are depicted but reduced in size, including a disheveled Jujuka being chased up the tree by the Cetan [End Page 80]


Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 1.

Opaque watercolor painting on fine cotton (428 cm × 82.5 cm). Late nineteenth century. Artist unknown.

Photoshopped image courtesy Leedom Lefferts.

[End Page 81]


Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 2.

Prince Vessantara donating the white elephant to the brahmins. (detail). Opaque watercolor painting on fine cotton. Late nineteenth century. Artist unknown.


Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 3.

King Sanjaya and Queen Phusati seated, flanked by Prince Vessantara and his family on their left side and two servants on the other (detail). Opaque watercolor painting on fine cotton. Late nineteenth century. Artist unknown.

[End Page 82]


Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 4.

Prince Vessantara and his family riding in their coach. Two brahmins request the donation of the horses (detail). Opaque watercolour painting on fine cotton. Late nineteenth century. Artist unknown.


Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 5.

Brahmin Jujuka requesting prince Vessantara for the donation of his two children (detail). Opaque watercolor painting on fine cotton. Late nineteenth century. Artist unknown.

[End Page 83]


Click for larger view
View full resolution
Figure 6.

The brahmins riding offon the two horses (detail). Opaque watercolour painting on fine cotton. Late nineteenth century. Artist unknown.

hunter and his dog and a partly...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
2010-314X
Print ISSN
1094-799X
Pages
pp. 79-121
Launched on MUSE
2012-05-25
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.