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Towering images of Buddha, symbolizing the serenity of self-renunciation, Pegu, Burma

Towering images of Buddha, symbolizing the serenity of self-renunciation, Pegu, Burma

Photographer: Underwood and Underwood

Medium: Photographic print

Date: 1900

Shelfmark: Photo 180/(9)

Item number: 1809

Length: 8.8

Width: 17.7

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Photograph

Stereoscopic pair of photographs taken by Underwood & Underwood in c.1900 of seated statues of Buddha at the Kyaik Pun Pagoda in Pegu (Bago), Burma (Myanmar). The prints show two of the four colossal 30m-high Buddha sculptures which sit back-to-back facing the four points of the compass, built by King Dhammazedi in 1476. A detailed caption is printed on the reverse of the mount: “There are practically no archaeological or architectural remains in Burma except those associated with its religious history. Pegu has many pagodas and statues of Buddha but none is of more interest than this enormous Kyaikpun shrine. Do you understand that the four colossal seated figures, of which our present position gives us view of but two, represent the Burmans’ conception of the four great Buddhas of this world cycle? These figures, each ninety feet high and seated back to back, are beautifully polished and perfectly joined. They are in the usual cross-legged attitude, the sides of the feet turned upward. The palm of one hand hangs over the knee while the other is upturned. The face, rather flat with oblique dreamy eyes, is Chinese in effect. Do you see how the lobes of the ears are elongated till they rest upon the shoulder?...The scaffolding in evidence at the rear indicates that repairs are being made on one of the sacred statues…” The photographs 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 creates 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 photographs in this set are generally of high quality and selected for their clarity and instructive value. A few also have instructions (presumably for the guidance of teachers) on the reverse as to what general topic the photograph illustrates.

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