Rare Burmese Carved Wooden Depiction of Adam and Eve
This fine and very-well carved pair of wooden images appear to be of Adam and Eve.
They are the product of a highly talented Burmese wood carver and are in excellent condition. The realistic depiction of the contours of the male and then the female body is remarkable. The details and the differences are well observed. Each also has been carved with late Konbaung Dynasty hair styles which much attention paid to the detail of the manner in which the hair is combed and gathered into buns. (The Konbaung Dynasty rule ended in 1885.)
A fig leaf covers the male figure’s modesty; there is no such covering for the female. Both stand on a wooden plinth. Each has been colored with European skin tones, despite the overt Burmese hairstyling. (Pale skin in any event was preferred coloring of upper class Burmese – it showed that they were not exposed to the sun as would be required with outdoors, manual labor.)
It is possible that they might have been commissioned for a Christian church in Burma, or were a standalone commission from a British administrator or similar whilst serving in Burma.
Christianity did not make big inroads into the Burmese population generally. Where it was more successful was among the Karen and other hill tribe groups, but they were poor and less likely to have commissioned such statues. Also, they were conservative and so also less likely to commission works that showed such overt nudity. So if the pair of statues were intended for a church in Burma then it would have been one with a more European congregation.
How can we be sure that they were made in Burma?
According to Michael Backman, “There is no other place that these could have been made. The hairstyles are only Burmese. There is also a long and vast tradition of carved wooden statues in Burma and everything about these is consistent with them being Burmese (the wood, the paint, etc). I have been to Burma many times and I have sold more Burmese items to museums than probably anyone – these are very (very) definitely Burmese.”
How can we be sure that they are meant to depict Adam and Eve?
Michael Backman says, “There is a male and a female and the male is wearing a fig leaf. There is no precedent for fig leaves in Burma when it comes to Buddhist sculpture nor is there any tradition of nudity in Burmese Buddhism. The British colonized Burma. They were Christian. What we have here is a Burmese interpretation of two Christian figures.
Furthermore, I discussed this pair with a friend of mine in Thailand who has just published a book on Burmese colonial photography and who is a collector of Burmese items himself and there was no question at all that this pair is both Burmese and Adam and Eve.”