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Bonhams Presents The Noble Silver Collection

A Silver Betel Box with Scenes from the Sama Jataka, Lower Burma (Myanmar), 1909,
Estimate: $40,000-60,000, Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art Sale, March 22, 2022

The Noble Silver Collection: Treasures from the Burmese Silver Age

Exhibition: March 16-21
Online sale, March 14-24
Highlights on sale live, Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art Sale, March 22

This Asia Week, Bonhams offers for sale The Noble Silver Collection, the finest and most comprehensive private collection of Burmese silver in the world. The collection charts a magnificent body of work produced by Burmese master silversmiths between the mid-19th and early 20th century, a period termed the Burmese Silver Age. This little-known genre of silver art is characterized by an exuberant decorative style achieved through superb technical artistry. Unlike other producers of silverware in Asia, Burmese silver catered largely to a domestic market, producing art objects designed for traditional Southeast Asian customs such as betel culture and temple offerings. Many in the Noble Silver Collection are embellished with beloved scenes from the Ramayana and the Jataka Tales.

One of the most popular Jataka Tales, according to David C. Owens, author of the collection's catalogue, Burmese Silver Art: Masterpieces Illuminating Buddhist, Hindu, and Mythological Stories of Purpose and Wisdom is the Sama Jataka, an example of which is illustrated above. In an interview with Bonhams, Owens commented “The Sama Jataka is one of the most popular narratives featured in Burmese silver art from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. It is a Buddhist allegory on the virtue of loving kindness as exemplified by the character of Sama and the selfless care he gives to his blind parents who live an ascetic life in the forest. The narrative is linear and cogent and therefore particularly instructive as a simple moral lesson for the ages.”

David Owens, who is also the collection's owner, along with his wife Kathleen, was born in England and emigrated to Canada. A career in the metal mining industry included 25 years working in Southeast and East Asia, an experience that stimulated Owens’s interest in Asian history, culture and art. A frequent visitor to Myanmar since 1992, Owens assembled The Noble Silver Collection over an eight year period. Owens's particular expertise is deciphering the iconography of the archetypal visual narratives that decorate Burmese silverwork. To read more of his interview, click here.

Highlights will be sold live as part of Bonhams Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art Sale on March 22nd and the rest is being sold online now through March 24th. For more information, click here