Burmese Silver – Decorations and Depictions

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Decorations and Depictions

Below is a description of a typical Burmese bowl. From this description one can understand how ornamentation was applied to other forms.

A bowl can be divided into three horizontal sections: the top, the middle and the bottom. The middle section contains the main pictorial scene and is the focal point of the bowl; It takes up most of the space on the bowl. The middle sections depicts key scenes from Buddhist traditional stories and legends, either separated into roundels by line work and scrolling vines, or flow continuously around the bowl in one large frieze.

The depictions are embossed in high-relief and they stand out from the bowl significantly, creating a dramatic effect. For further detail each figure is given texture and facial features through chasing, and the background is chased with buildings, patterns or trees.

Below the main pictorial scene is a band of repeating leaves, often acanthus leaves, which extend to the underside of the bowl. This bottom band acts as a visual ground on which the depictions rest on.

Diagram of Section

A diagram if the sections of a bowl as explained in the text. (For a full description see our Catalogue)

Continuous Decorations

A different view of the bowl

Decorations main section divided

Divided main section with decorations

Burmese silverwork and Burmese art in general was heavily influenced by other regions. Here is a drawing showing the different types of floral designs which the Burmese silversmith used and from which regions they originate. Occasionally two of these patterns were used together to create interest. (Shan is a state in Burma and Siamese refers to Thailand, Published in ‘The Silverwork of Burma’)

Floral Designs

Silversmith Floral Designs


The stories depicted come from several sources including: the Ramayana, the Zodiac and folk tales. The Ramayana is a Sanskrit epic which, in the Burmese version, tells the story of the previous lives of Buddha. Although there are many stories contained within the Ramayana, Burmese silversmiths usually depicted one of ten primary legends.

The Ramayana is an epic poem belonging to both Buddhist and Hindu mythology. Here Burmese dancers play Rama (the protagonist) and Sita (Rama’s wife) in the Buddhist version of the Ramayana (picture by Nguyen Thanh Long)

Ramayana Depictions

Ramayana Depictions

Joseph CohenBurmese Silver – Decorations and Depictions