Buddhist temple interior with costly decorations in gold and colors, Moulmein, Burma
Photographer: Underwood and Underwood
Medium: Photographic print
Stereoscopic pair of photographs taken by Underwood & Underwood in c.1900 of the interior of a Buddhist temple at Moulmein (Mawlamyaing) in Burma (Myanmar). This view shows a series of pillars inside the temple, richly decorated with gilding and mirrored glass mosaic. This form of ornamentation was traditionally used to create an effect of glittering splendour on the exterior and interior of sacred Burmese architecture such as pagodas, monasteries and palaces. In the foreground is a life-like statue carved in wood of one of the Four Sights - an old man, a sick man, a dead man and an ascetic - the sight of whom so moved the young prince Siddhartha that he resolved to devote his life to finding a means to ending human suffering, eventually attaining Enlightenment, and becoming known as the Buddha or Enlightened One. They were often recreated as life-sized statues and displayed in temples. The prints are from a collection of 36 stereoscopic views of Burma, one of a series of “stereoscopic tours” of foreign countries published as part of the ‘Underwood Travel Library’. Stereoscopic views became enormously popular from the mid-19th century onward as they enabled observers to imagine that they were really “touring” around distant parts of the world. Each pair of views, made using a special camera with two lenses, is mounted on stout card for insertion in a stereoscope or binocular viewer. This device produces the illusion of a single three-dimensional image in the mind of the observer by using the binocular function of human sight to combine the two images, which are seen from fractionally different viewpoints. The prints in this set are generally of high quality and selected for their clarity and instructive value. A few of the mounts also have a detailed descriptive caption printed on the reverse, with instructions (presumably for the guidance of teachers) as to what general topic the photograph illustrates.