Burmese Silver – Forms
There is little variety in the forms of silver vessels seen in antique Burmese silver. Typically, one sees bowls, containers, cups and figures or statues.
To make the statues, the silversmith first cast the silver to create the form and then chased the piece to add detail. When making the other items, the silversmith melted silver into a clay saucer and then hammered the silver into a specific form. To add detail and ornamentation, the silversmith would use the techniques of chasse (chasing) and repousse (punching from the outside and the inside, respectively) to create scenes in high relief. This inward and outward process would be repeated a number of timesin order to obtain high relief with fine and crisp details.
The forms seen in the repertoire of Burmese silver are limited. In the time before British rule, everyone, besides Burmese royalty and aristocracy, was prohibited from using silver and gold. Furthermore, silver and gold were never used in religious practices since Burmese monks were prohibited from touching silver and gold.
During the time of British rule, the silversmiths did not change the form of their vessels in order to suit their European customers (as was the case in India and China). Tea sets, goblets and other European vessels are rarely found and when they are, they are often not made well.
Above is a picture of several bowls shown in the Indian and Colonial Exhibition. The six bowls all take a similar form but their ornamentation varies. They were made between 1840-1850 and are older than most bowls one will encounter. (The photograph was taken by P. Klier and published in ‘The Silverwork of Burma’ by Harry Tilly). Below is a bowl in our collection. Notice that the shape and layout of this bowl is similar to the bowls shown in the first picture although this bowl was created about half a century later.
- Joseph Cohen