Large and colorful, the panel painting depicts scenes from the life of Buddha and is believed to have been made in Thailand in the 19th century, possibly to hang near a temple entrance. But after years in storage, exposure to humidity and damage from water, the painting was flaking so badly that it could not be set upright to be fully examined when this year it became a technical study and treatment project for Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC) second-year Fellow Ellen Nigro.
The painting belongs to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, which accessioned it in 2002 from the extensive collection of Southeast Asian art that belonged to heiress Doris Duke (1912– 1993). Titled Buddha’s Descent from Tavatimsa, it covers two hardwood panels, thought to be teak, and depicts two separate scenes, one that is possibly secular and the other religious. The secular picture on the left is of a palace, while the religious picture on the right is actually two connected scenes, the first showing Buddha teaching in Tavatimsa Heaven and the second showing Buddha descending from heaven. It measures approximately 4’ x 7’, and its two panels are held in place by a frame that is adorned with a floral motif and wraps around its edges.