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Buddha Enthroned, c. 1180–1220

Thai (Khmer)

The identification of Buddhist monarchs with overt symbols of worldly wealth and power was characteristic of the time of the Angkor king Jayavarman VII (1181–c. 1218). Although Buddhism rejects worldly possessions, the association of Khmer kings with gods was frequently expressed in sculpture decorated with royal regalia. By presenting the Buddha as possessing material wealth and power in richer images like the Kimbell sculpture, Jayavarman VII may have sought to identify himself with divine authority.

Instead of being represented as a monk meditating on a lotus pad, the Buddha is here depicted on an elaborate throne. The steep, intricately carved superstructure surmounted by a flame pattern invokes the form of the mountain-shaped pediments of Khmer temples with entwined foliate motifs and nagas, the serpent symbols of the power of the underworld: water and fertility. The Buddha is adorned with a diadem, heavy ear pendants, and richly jeweled necklaces, bracelets, and anklets. His right hand reaches down with extended fingers to make the earth-touching gesture, or mudra, known as Maravijaya, meaning “victory over Mara.” In this mode, the most frequently encountered gesture in Thai sculpture, the Buddha is calling on the earth to witness his victory over the seductive forces of the evil power of Mara, who tried to distract the Buddha from the meditation that would lead to his enlightenment.

Adult: Buddha Enthroned

Audio file
Kimbell Art Museum, Acoustiguide Inc.


The recent conservation of Buddha Enthroned provided an opportunity to study its construction and examine its exquisitely preserved surface. The sculpture, which was created using a lost-wax casting process, is made up of eighteen separate pieces. The figure itself is composed of six parts: the head, chest with shoulders, each arm with its upper bracelet, the flower in the left hand and the legs with the waist cloth. The x-radiograph shows an iron armature in each arm that runs from the upper bracelet to the bracelet at the wrist. No armature, however, is present in the neck or torso. The neck area and upper arms are filled with solder at the joints, though it is unclear whether this is original or from later repairs. The x-radiograph also reveals an ancient repair of a casting flaw at the back of the waist. One of the questions that has concerned scholars is whether or not the base and the figure belong together. Since both exhibit the same type of burial dirt as well as the same type of corrosion, it seems likely that they were buried together. A sandy material was found on the back of the piece, which may suggest burial in a sandy environment or that the piece was buried in contact with a stucco. Precious sculptures were sometimes covered with stucco and buried in temples for safekeeping. This may explain why Buddha Enthroned was never melted down. Another question about the sculpture was whether or not the piece had surface decoration, which is found on some other examples. A single glass jewel remains in the crown, however, no further evidence of gilding or paint was found when the Buddha was examined with a microscope and ultraviolet light.

Conservation Image
Partial x-radiograph composite of  Buddha Enthroned showing the neck area and upper arms filled with solder at the joints, as well as an iron armature in the arms
Partial x-radiograph composite of Buddha Enthroned showing the neck area and upper arms filled with solder at the joints, as well as an iron armature in the arms



(Ellsworth & Goldie, Ltd., New York);

purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1966.