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{"id":5591807754390,"title":"Antique Burmese Silver Bowl, Important, Large Size, Maung Shwe Yon, Rangoon (yangon), Burma (myanmar) – Circa 1885","handle":"antique-burmese-silver-bowl-important-large-size-maung-shwe-yon-rangoon-yangon-burma-myanmar-circa-1885","description":"\u003cp\u003eThis is a large and important Burmese silver bowl by Maung Shwe Yon of Rangoon, one of the great documented master silversmiths during the British colonial period.  The workmanship is magnificent in every respect.  The triple border to the rim, particularly the wide convex border, is strikingly similar to other examples by the same maker which can be seen in Plate V of Tilly’s ‘The Silverwork of Burma’.  Compare the interlocking circle and scroll border at the top of Tilly’s photograph with the decoration of the convex border to the upper part of this bowl.  On page 42 of Wilkinson’s ‘Indian Silver 1858-1947’, Plate 51 shows a similar bowl with Jataka scenes by the same maker.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eIn an ‘Arts of Asia’ article written by Wilkinson et al, they say that Rangoon silver objects “typically feature stylised landscapes rendered as “scales” forming the background to the figures”.  Such a wide range of surface textures have been worked onto this bowl in order to obtain the multi layered ornamentation that the bowl almost appears to shimmer in the light. The ten scenes, within cusped borders separated by floral and foliate elements are worked in relief and set against a striking damask background to the upper part, reminiscent of fine wallpaper or table linen.  Between the principal scenes and the base is a thick relief border of water cabbage leaves. \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe bowl illustrates an allegorical or moral tale, that of Patacara, which is derived from the Jatakas, the life and parables of Buddha. The theme of the story is universal; an illustration of life’s unpredictability and fragility which serves as a reminder that we are all blind as to what the future holds and to cherish, not take for granted, the good times in our lives.  ‘The Life or Legend of Gaudama, The Buddha of the Burmese’ was published in English in 1858 by Reverend Paul Bigandet, a Roman Catholic Bishop living in Burma.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe ten principal panels can be viewed as a story board which show a few short years of a young woman’s life.  Her circumstances change, affecting her well being and emotions.  We share her hope and anticipation at the start of the story, imagine her happiness and contentment with her young family in their home and witness her sudden, unexpected and swift descent into grief, sorrow and destitution, through a series of tragic events.  The ultimate scene offers a faint glimmer of hope for her future.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 1:  shows a well dressed young woman of high rank being courted by a young man of lower rank, possibly her servant\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 2:  the couple set out together to start their life, the woman carries her possessions in a bundle on her head.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 3:  the woman is at home with her child, cradling a young baby.  They are in front of a fire with a cooking pot over it.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 4:  the man is returning to the house after collecting a bundle of firewood and is bitten by a snake on the path.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 5:  the man lies dead or dying in front of his family.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 6:  after her partner’s death, the woman sets off on a long journey with her baby and child.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 7:  whilst attempting to cross a stretch of turbulent and fast flowing water, the child drowns and the baby is carried off by a large predatory bird.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 8:  the grief stricken woman is now alone, she is naked.  She has lost her home, her whole family and all her possessions, she meets a travelling holy man.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 9:  she passes two well dressed, perhaps royal or noble people, with fine clothes who stare at her.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 10:  naked, with only her long hair to cover herself, she kneels on the floor with her arms outstretched, beseeching Buddha for help.  Buddha stands on a lotus flower and his head is turned towards her, he is listening.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eMaung Shwe Yon is one of the few documented Burmese silversmiths and is known to have been a master silversmith, working in Rangoon, who died in 1889, shortly after finishing a splendid and very large trophy for the Mess of the Royal Engineers at Chatham, which they still possess. The underside of the bowl bears Maung Shwe Yon’s mark or logo, a deer motif within a sixteen point star or sunburst, composed from two concentric superimposed and offset, eight pointed stars of differing diameters. Most unusually for Burmese silver of this period, the maker’s initials, (MSY), also appear in English script over the motif. (Most Burmese silversmiths would have been illiterate and it was not usual for Burmese maker’s to sign their work in writing at this time, particularly not in English script!)\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThere are two possible explanations for the presence of the MSY signature over the logo. Firstly, that he was differentiating his work from that of his contemporaries in order to appeal to the European colonials living in Rangoon, part of British Burma at this time and\/or that the bowl was intended for an international exhibition.  The bowl’s outstanding quality, impressive size and the universal theme of the subject matter, lend weight to the latter.   \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eMaung Shwe Yon also fathered a dynasty. According to Wilkinson et al ‘there is no tradition of hereditary trades in Burma’ only a tradition of apprenticeships, yet Maung’s three sons, Maung Shwe Bin, Maung Thu Hlaing and Maung Yin Maung worked in the same trade and continued the business in Rangoon, where they traded under the name of Maung Shwe Yon Brothers. Around the turn of the century, Maung Yin Maung rose to prominence among the Rangoon silversmiths and went on to become the most famous and most celebrated Burmese silversmith of his generation. In 1904, after being awarded the Gold Medal for Silver Plate at the Delhi Exhibition of 1902\/3, he appears in a photograph in Tilly’s ‘Modern Burmese Silverwork’, probably aged between twenty and thirty (far left). His brother, Maung Thu Hlaing, appears in the same photo,  slightly behind and to the right of his brother.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eMaung Shwe Yon is believed to have participated in some international exhibitions, including the prominent silver display at the Burma Court of The Colonial and Indian Exhibition, held in South Kensington, London, from 4 May to 20 November 1886, where this bowl may have been exhibited.  The catalogue states “A fine collection of gold and silver ware from Rangoon, and also from the Shan States, exemplifies the well-known and highly-esteemed silver-work of Burma.”  It is inconceivable that silver made by Maung Shwe Yon would not have featured prominently within the exhibited works from Rangoon as these exhibitions sought to showcase the ‘best of the best’ in every field in order to maximise prestige and to stimulate trade. \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eWithin the collection of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum there is a small bowl of 15cms diameter by the same maker.  Their description reads:-  “Incised and punched on the bottom is a six pointed star with a crouching deer at the centre and the letters M.S.Y. below it. (A Signature and logo of maker - invariably an animal or bird which were in some cases the maker's zodiac sign).”  It has now been confirmed by the V \u0026amp; A that their bowl's description should read '..... a sixteen pointed star'.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe note to the description states:-  \"Example of peak and complete mastery of silversmith's art. Superb borders. Exhibition quality. Very high relief work slowly developed to suit European taste.\" R. Isaacs 5\/8\/92”\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eMaung Shwe Yon was the most distinguished and highly regarded Burmese silversmith of his generation, receiving many important commissions. Thirteen years after his death, Tilly does not hide his admiration, he writes:-\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e“\u003cstrong\u003ePlate V\u003c\/strong\u003e shows an adaptation of old designs by Maung Yon of Rangoon in 1885, or thereabouts. Maung Shwe Yon also designed and made the pierced bowl given in \u003cstrong\u003ePlate VI\u003c\/strong\u003e which is the best example of this kind of work ever produced. The foliage is a combination of three kinds of flower work known as \u003cem\u003etazin ngwe, kalla ban\u003c\/em\u003e and \u003cem\u003eKyu det\u003c\/em\u003e and the skill with which the different styles have been combined to prevent monotony in the general effect is greatly appreciated by Burmese Silversmiths. Round the base of the bowl is an arrangement of leaves of the water cabbage (\u003cem\u003ehmaw\u003c\/em\u003e)\u003cem\u003e.”\u003c\/em\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eIn Harry Tilly’s ‘The Silverwork of Burma’, there are 10 photographic plates and only two silversmiths are given the privilege of having two of these plates solely devoted to photographs of their work. One is this bowl’s maker, Maung Shwe Yon (plates V and VI), who died in 1889, and the other is his son, Maung Yin Maung, who rose to prominence around 1900. \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cem\u003e\u003cstrong\u003eProvenance:\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/em\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e         \u003c\/strong\u003eUK art market\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cem\u003e\u003cstrong\u003eSize:\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/em\u003e                         Height:  17 cms, Width:  26.5 cms     \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e\u003cem\u003eWeight:              \u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/em\u003e\u003c\/strong\u003e   1765 grammes\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e\u003cem\u003eReferences:\u003c\/em\u003e\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eJohn Lowry, Burmese Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London 1974\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe Colonial and Indian Exhibition 1886, Official Catalogue, page 64, William Clowes and Sons Limited, London London, 1886\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eHarry L. Tilly, The Silverwork of Burma by with photographs by P Klier, Rangoon 1902\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eHarry L. Tilly, Modern Burmese Silverwork, Superintendent, Government Printing, Rangoon, Burma; 1st edition (1904)\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eP A Bigandet, The Life or Legend of Gaudama, The Buddha of the Burmese, Third Edition, Truebner and Co, Ludgate Hill, London 1880\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eWynyard R T Wilkinson, Indian Silver 1858-1947: Decorative Silver from the Indian Sub-Continent and Burma Made by Local Craftsmen in Western Forms, W Wilkinson \u0026amp; Indar Pashrical Fine Arts, London  1997\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eWynyard R T Wilkinson, Mary-Louise Wilkinson and Barbara Harding, Burmese Silver from the Colonial Period, Arts of Asia, May-June 2013\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003ePaul Williams, Edited By, Buddhism:  Critical Concepts in Religious Studies, Volume VII, Pages 45-47, Routledge, Oxford 2005 \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe V \u0026amp; A Museum, London, inventory number IM.6-1929\u003c\/p\u003e","published_at":"2020-08-09T17:40:14+01:00","created_at":"2020-08-09T17:40:13+01:00","vendor":"Joseph Cohen Antiques","type":"Silver Bowl","tags":["Sold Archive"],"price":0,"price_min":0,"price_max":0,"available":false,"price_varies":false,"compare_at_price":null,"compare_at_price_min":0,"compare_at_price_max":0,"compare_at_price_varies":false,"variants":[{"id":35686296649878,"title":"Default Title","option1":"Default Title","option2":null,"option3":null,"sku":"","requires_shipping":true,"taxable":true,"featured_image":null,"available":false,"name":"Antique Burmese Silver Bowl, Important, Large Size, Maung Shwe Yon, Rangoon (yangon), Burma (myanmar) – Circa 1885","public_title":null,"options":["Default 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is a large and important Burmese silver bowl by Maung Shwe Yon of Rangoon, one of the great documented master silversmiths during the British colonial period.  The workmanship is magnificent in every respect.  The triple border to the rim, particularly the wide convex border, is strikingly similar to other examples by the same maker which can be seen in Plate V of Tilly’s ‘The Silverwork of Burma’.  Compare the interlocking circle and scroll border at the top of Tilly’s photograph with the decoration of the convex border to the upper part of this bowl.  On page 42 of Wilkinson’s ‘Indian Silver 1858-1947’, Plate 51 shows a similar bowl with Jataka scenes by the same maker.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eIn an ‘Arts of Asia’ article written by Wilkinson et al, they say that Rangoon silver objects “typically feature stylised landscapes rendered as “scales” forming the background to the figures”.  Such a wide range of surface textures have been worked onto this bowl in order to obtain the multi layered ornamentation that the bowl almost appears to shimmer in the light. The ten scenes, within cusped borders separated by floral and foliate elements are worked in relief and set against a striking damask background to the upper part, reminiscent of fine wallpaper or table linen.  Between the principal scenes and the base is a thick relief border of water cabbage leaves. \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe bowl illustrates an allegorical or moral tale, that of Patacara, which is derived from the Jatakas, the life and parables of Buddha. The theme of the story is universal; an illustration of life’s unpredictability and fragility which serves as a reminder that we are all blind as to what the future holds and to cherish, not take for granted, the good times in our lives.  ‘The Life or Legend of Gaudama, The Buddha of the Burmese’ was published in English in 1858 by Reverend Paul Bigandet, a Roman Catholic Bishop living in Burma.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe ten principal panels can be viewed as a story board which show a few short years of a young woman’s life.  Her circumstances change, affecting her well being and emotions.  We share her hope and anticipation at the start of the story, imagine her happiness and contentment with her young family in their home and witness her sudden, unexpected and swift descent into grief, sorrow and destitution, through a series of tragic events.  The ultimate scene offers a faint glimmer of hope for her future.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 1:  shows a well dressed young woman of high rank being courted by a young man of lower rank, possibly her servant\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 2:  the couple set out together to start their life, the woman carries her possessions in a bundle on her head.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 3:  the woman is at home with her child, cradling a young baby.  They are in front of a fire with a cooking pot over it.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 4:  the man is returning to the house after collecting a bundle of firewood and is bitten by a snake on the path.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 5:  the man lies dead or dying in front of his family.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 6:  after her partner’s death, the woman sets off on a long journey with her baby and child.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 7:  whilst attempting to cross a stretch of turbulent and fast flowing water, the child drowns and the baby is carried off by a large predatory bird.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 8:  the grief stricken woman is now alone, she is naked.  She has lost her home, her whole family and all her possessions, she meets a travelling holy man.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 9:  she passes two well dressed, perhaps royal or noble people, with fine clothes who stare at her.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eScene 10:  naked, with only her long hair to cover herself, she kneels on the floor with her arms outstretched, beseeching Buddha for help.  Buddha stands on a lotus flower and his head is turned towards her, he is listening.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eMaung Shwe Yon is one of the few documented Burmese silversmiths and is known to have been a master silversmith, working in Rangoon, who died in 1889, shortly after finishing a splendid and very large trophy for the Mess of the Royal Engineers at Chatham, which they still possess. The underside of the bowl bears Maung Shwe Yon’s mark or logo, a deer motif within a sixteen point star or sunburst, composed from two concentric superimposed and offset, eight pointed stars of differing diameters. Most unusually for Burmese silver of this period, the maker’s initials, (MSY), also appear in English script over the motif. (Most Burmese silversmiths would have been illiterate and it was not usual for Burmese maker’s to sign their work in writing at this time, particularly not in English script!)\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThere are two possible explanations for the presence of the MSY signature over the logo. Firstly, that he was differentiating his work from that of his contemporaries in order to appeal to the European colonials living in Rangoon, part of British Burma at this time and\/or that the bowl was intended for an international exhibition.  The bowl’s outstanding quality, impressive size and the universal theme of the subject matter, lend weight to the latter.   \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eMaung Shwe Yon also fathered a dynasty. According to Wilkinson et al ‘there is no tradition of hereditary trades in Burma’ only a tradition of apprenticeships, yet Maung’s three sons, Maung Shwe Bin, Maung Thu Hlaing and Maung Yin Maung worked in the same trade and continued the business in Rangoon, where they traded under the name of Maung Shwe Yon Brothers. Around the turn of the century, Maung Yin Maung rose to prominence among the Rangoon silversmiths and went on to become the most famous and most celebrated Burmese silversmith of his generation. In 1904, after being awarded the Gold Medal for Silver Plate at the Delhi Exhibition of 1902\/3, he appears in a photograph in Tilly’s ‘Modern Burmese Silverwork’, probably aged between twenty and thirty (far left). His brother, Maung Thu Hlaing, appears in the same photo,  slightly behind and to the right of his brother.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eMaung Shwe Yon is believed to have participated in some international exhibitions, including the prominent silver display at the Burma Court of The Colonial and Indian Exhibition, held in South Kensington, London, from 4 May to 20 November 1886, where this bowl may have been exhibited.  The catalogue states “A fine collection of gold and silver ware from Rangoon, and also from the Shan States, exemplifies the well-known and highly-esteemed silver-work of Burma.”  It is inconceivable that silver made by Maung Shwe Yon would not have featured prominently within the exhibited works from Rangoon as these exhibitions sought to showcase the ‘best of the best’ in every field in order to maximise prestige and to stimulate trade. \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eWithin the collection of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum there is a small bowl of 15cms diameter by the same maker.  Their description reads:-  “Incised and punched on the bottom is a six pointed star with a crouching deer at the centre and the letters M.S.Y. below it. (A Signature and logo of maker - invariably an animal or bird which were in some cases the maker's zodiac sign).”  It has now been confirmed by the V \u0026amp; A that their bowl's description should read '..... a sixteen pointed star'.\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe note to the description states:-  \"Example of peak and complete mastery of silversmith's art. Superb borders. Exhibition quality. Very high relief work slowly developed to suit European taste.\" R. Isaacs 5\/8\/92”\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eMaung Shwe Yon was the most distinguished and highly regarded Burmese silversmith of his generation, receiving many important commissions. Thirteen years after his death, Tilly does not hide his admiration, he writes:-\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e“\u003cstrong\u003ePlate V\u003c\/strong\u003e shows an adaptation of old designs by Maung Yon of Rangoon in 1885, or thereabouts. Maung Shwe Yon also designed and made the pierced bowl given in \u003cstrong\u003ePlate VI\u003c\/strong\u003e which is the best example of this kind of work ever produced. The foliage is a combination of three kinds of flower work known as \u003cem\u003etazin ngwe, kalla ban\u003c\/em\u003e and \u003cem\u003eKyu det\u003c\/em\u003e and the skill with which the different styles have been combined to prevent monotony in the general effect is greatly appreciated by Burmese Silversmiths. Round the base of the bowl is an arrangement of leaves of the water cabbage (\u003cem\u003ehmaw\u003c\/em\u003e)\u003cem\u003e.”\u003c\/em\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eIn Harry Tilly’s ‘The Silverwork of Burma’, there are 10 photographic plates and only two silversmiths are given the privilege of having two of these plates solely devoted to photographs of their work. One is this bowl’s maker, Maung Shwe Yon (plates V and VI), who died in 1889, and the other is his son, Maung Yin Maung, who rose to prominence around 1900. \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cem\u003e\u003cstrong\u003eProvenance:\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/em\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e         \u003c\/strong\u003eUK art market\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cem\u003e\u003cstrong\u003eSize:\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/em\u003e                         Height:  17 cms, Width:  26.5 cms     \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e\u003cem\u003eWeight:              \u003cspan\u003e \u003c\/span\u003e\u003c\/em\u003e\u003c\/strong\u003e   1765 grammes\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003e\u003cstrong\u003e\u003cem\u003eReferences:\u003c\/em\u003e\u003c\/strong\u003e\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eJohn Lowry, Burmese Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London 1974\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe Colonial and Indian Exhibition 1886, Official Catalogue, page 64, William Clowes and Sons Limited, London London, 1886\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eHarry L. Tilly, The Silverwork of Burma by with photographs by P Klier, Rangoon 1902\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eHarry L. Tilly, Modern Burmese Silverwork, Superintendent, Government Printing, Rangoon, Burma; 1st edition (1904)\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eP A Bigandet, The Life or Legend of Gaudama, The Buddha of the Burmese, Third Edition, Truebner and Co, Ludgate Hill, London 1880\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eWynyard R T Wilkinson, Indian Silver 1858-1947: Decorative Silver from the Indian Sub-Continent and Burma Made by Local Craftsmen in Western Forms, W Wilkinson \u0026amp; Indar Pashrical Fine Arts, London  1997\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eWynyard R T Wilkinson, Mary-Louise Wilkinson and Barbara Harding, Burmese Silver from the Colonial Period, Arts of Asia, May-June 2013\u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003ePaul Williams, Edited By, Buddhism:  Critical Concepts in Religious Studies, Volume VII, Pages 45-47, Routledge, Oxford 2005 \u003c\/p\u003e\n\u003cp\u003eThe V \u0026amp; A Museum, London, inventory number IM.6-1929\u003c\/p\u003e"}

Antique Burmese Silver Bowl, Important, Large Size, Maung Shwe Yon, Rangoon (yangon), Burma (myanmar) – Circa 1885

Product Description

This is a large and important Burmese silver bowl by Maung Shwe Yon of Rangoon, one of the great documented master silversmiths during the British colonial period.  The workmanship is magnificent in every respect.  The triple border to the rim, particularly the wide convex border, is strikingly similar to other examples by the same maker which can be seen in Plate V of Tilly’s ‘The Silverwork of Burma’.  Compare the interlocking circle and scroll border at the top of Tilly’s photograph with the decoration of the convex border to the upper part of this bowl.  On page 42 of Wilkinson’s ‘Indian Silver 1858-1947’, Plate 51 shows a similar bowl with Jataka scenes by the same maker.

In an ‘Arts of Asia’ article written by Wilkinson et al, they say that Rangoon silver objects “typically feature stylised landscapes rendered as “scales” forming the background to the figures”.  Such a wide range of surface textures have been worked onto this bowl in order to obtain the multi layered ornamentation that the bowl almost appears to shimmer in the light. The ten scenes, within cusped borders separated by floral and foliate elements are worked in relief and set against a striking damask background to the upper part, reminiscent of fine wallpaper or table linen.  Between the principal scenes and the base is a thick relief border of water cabbage leaves. 

The bowl illustrates an allegorical or moral tale, that of Patacara, which is derived from the Jatakas, the life and parables of Buddha. The theme of the story is universal; an illustration of life’s unpredictability and fragility which serves as a reminder that we are all blind as to what the future holds and to cherish, not take for granted, the good times in our lives.  ‘The Life or Legend of Gaudama, The Buddha of the Burmese’ was published in English in 1858 by Reverend Paul Bigandet, a Roman Catholic Bishop living in Burma.

The ten principal panels can be viewed as a story board which show a few short years of a young woman’s life.  Her circumstances change, affecting her well being and emotions.  We share her hope and anticipation at the start of the story, imagine her happiness and contentment with her young family in their home and witness her sudden, unexpected and swift descent into grief, sorrow and destitution, through a series of tragic events.  The ultimate scene offers a faint glimmer of hope for her future.

Scene 1:  shows a well dressed young woman of high rank being courted by a young man of lower rank, possibly her servant

Scene 2:  the couple set out together to start their life, the woman carries her possessions in a bundle on her head.

Scene 3:  the woman is at home with her child, cradling a young baby.  They are in front of a fire with a cooking pot over it.

Scene 4:  the man is returning to the house after collecting a bundle of firewood and is bitten by a snake on the path.

Scene 5:  the man lies dead or dying in front of his family.

Scene 6:  after her partner’s death, the woman sets off on a long journey with her baby and child.

Scene 7:  whilst attempting to cross a stretch of turbulent and fast flowing water, the child drowns and the baby is carried off by a large predatory bird.

Scene 8:  the grief stricken woman is now alone, she is naked.  She has lost her home, her whole family and all her possessions, she meets a travelling holy man.

Scene 9:  she passes two well dressed, perhaps royal or noble people, with fine clothes who stare at her.

Scene 10:  naked, with only her long hair to cover herself, she kneels on the floor with her arms outstretched, beseeching Buddha for help.  Buddha stands on a lotus flower and his head is turned towards her, he is listening.

Maung Shwe Yon is one of the few documented Burmese silversmiths and is known to have been a master silversmith, working in Rangoon, who died in 1889, shortly after finishing a splendid and very large trophy for the Mess of the Royal Engineers at Chatham, which they still possess. The underside of the bowl bears Maung Shwe Yon’s mark or logo, a deer motif within a sixteen point star or sunburst, composed from two concentric superimposed and offset, eight pointed stars of differing diameters. Most unusually for Burmese silver of this period, the maker’s initials, (MSY), also appear in English script over the motif. (Most Burmese silversmiths would have been illiterate and it was not usual for Burmese maker’s to sign their work in writing at this time, particularly not in English script!)

There are two possible explanations for the presence of the MSY signature over the logo. Firstly, that he was differentiating his work from that of his contemporaries in order to appeal to the European colonials living in Rangoon, part of British Burma at this time and/or that the bowl was intended for an international exhibition.  The bowl’s outstanding quality, impressive size and the universal theme of the subject matter, lend weight to the latter.   

Maung Shwe Yon also fathered a dynasty. According to Wilkinson et al ‘there is no tradition of hereditary trades in Burma’ only a tradition of apprenticeships, yet Maung’s three sons, Maung Shwe Bin, Maung Thu Hlaing and Maung Yin Maung worked in the same trade and continued the business in Rangoon, where they traded under the name of Maung Shwe Yon Brothers. Around the turn of the century, Maung Yin Maung rose to prominence among the Rangoon silversmiths and went on to become the most famous and most celebrated Burmese silversmith of his generation. In 1904, after being awarded the Gold Medal for Silver Plate at the Delhi Exhibition of 1902/3, he appears in a photograph in Tilly’s ‘Modern Burmese Silverwork’, probably aged between twenty and thirty (far left). His brother, Maung Thu Hlaing, appears in the same photo,  slightly behind and to the right of his brother.

Maung Shwe Yon is believed to have participated in some international exhibitions, including the prominent silver display at the Burma Court of The Colonial and Indian Exhibition, held in South Kensington, London, from 4 May to 20 November 1886, where this bowl may have been exhibited.  The catalogue states “A fine collection of gold and silver ware from Rangoon, and also from the Shan States, exemplifies the well-known and highly-esteemed silver-work of Burma.”  It is inconceivable that silver made by Maung Shwe Yon would not have featured prominently within the exhibited works from Rangoon as these exhibitions sought to showcase the ‘best of the best’ in every field in order to maximise prestige and to stimulate trade. 

Within the collection of London’s Victoria and Albert Museum there is a small bowl of 15cms diameter by the same maker.  Their description reads:-  “Incised and punched on the bottom is a six pointed star with a crouching deer at the centre and the letters M.S.Y. below it. (A Signature and logo of maker - invariably an animal or bird which were in some cases the maker's zodiac sign).”  It has now been confirmed by the V & A that their bowl's description should read '..... a sixteen pointed star'.

The note to the description states:-  "Example of peak and complete mastery of silversmith's art. Superb borders. Exhibition quality. Very high relief work slowly developed to suit European taste." R. Isaacs 5/8/92”

Maung Shwe Yon was the most distinguished and highly regarded Burmese silversmith of his generation, receiving many important commissions. Thirteen years after his death, Tilly does not hide his admiration, he writes:-

Plate V shows an adaptation of old designs by Maung Yon of Rangoon in 1885, or thereabouts. Maung Shwe Yon also designed and made the pierced bowl given in Plate VI which is the best example of this kind of work ever produced. The foliage is a combination of three kinds of flower work known as tazin ngwe, kalla ban and Kyu det and the skill with which the different styles have been combined to prevent monotony in the general effect is greatly appreciated by Burmese Silversmiths. Round the base of the bowl is an arrangement of leaves of the water cabbage (hmaw).”

In Harry Tilly’s ‘The Silverwork of Burma’, there are 10 photographic plates and only two silversmiths are given the privilege of having two of these plates solely devoted to photographs of their work. One is this bowl’s maker, Maung Shwe Yon (plates V and VI), who died in 1889, and the other is his son, Maung Yin Maung, who rose to prominence around 1900. 

Provenance:         UK art market

Size:                         Height:  17 cms, Width:  26.5 cms     

Weight:                  1765 grammes

References:

John Lowry, Burmese Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London 1974

The Colonial and Indian Exhibition 1886, Official Catalogue, page 64, William Clowes and Sons Limited, London London, 1886

Harry L. Tilly, The Silverwork of Burma by with photographs by P Klier, Rangoon 1902

Harry L. Tilly, Modern Burmese Silverwork, Superintendent, Government Printing, Rangoon, Burma; 1st edition (1904)

P A Bigandet, The Life or Legend of Gaudama, The Buddha of the Burmese, Third Edition, Truebner and Co, Ludgate Hill, London 1880

Wynyard R T Wilkinson, Indian Silver 1858-1947: Decorative Silver from the Indian Sub-Continent and Burma Made by Local Craftsmen in Western Forms, W Wilkinson & Indar Pashrical Fine Arts, London  1997

Wynyard R T Wilkinson, Mary-Louise Wilkinson and Barbara Harding, Burmese Silver from the Colonial Period, Arts of Asia, May-June 2013

Paul Williams, Edited By, Buddhism:  Critical Concepts in Religious Studies, Volume VII, Pages 45-47, Routledge, Oxford 2005 

The V & A Museum, London, inventory number IM.6-1929

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