Following the fall of the Mon-Dvaravati kingdom in the 11th century, Khmer rule extended into Thailand and remained dominant into the 13th century. The central Thai city of Lopburi, which gives its name to the period style of this large-scale Buddha, was both the political and artistic center of the region. The school of art that developed drew upon the iconography and aesthetic of the earlier Buddhist Mon-Dvaravati kingdom, which had ruled in the region, but which became increasingly influenced by Khmer artistic traditions.
While Hinduism remained the royal religion in Cambodia until the end of the 12th century, the preponderance of Buddhist art in Thailand indicates that Buddhism continued as the primary religion even when the region was under Khmer rule. Buddhist imagery includes buddhas seated under a naga (half human_, half serpentine semi-divine beings), standing buddhas with two hands raised in a gesture of teaching (_vitarka mudra), and in the northeast, particularly at the Vajrayana Buddhist temple of Phimai, more esoteric forms of buddhas and bodhisattvas.
The gesture, two hands raised with palms outward in ham samut (forbidding the ocean pose), was one that became popular in the 12th century. It probably refers to the Buddha’s display of supernatural powers by his holding back floodwaters when converting his disciple Kassapa. If this interpretation is correct, it might also explain why the Buddha is shown wearing extravagant jewels and a crown—part of his supernatural display— instead of his usual monk’s garb.
In fact, the story of the Buddha’s display in Kassapa’s conversion is akin to another interpretation of why the Buddha is sometimes adorned: the legend of his appearance to king Jambupati. However, the proximity of the sculpture in date to the important Tantric Buddhist center of Phimai in the northeast may also provide the key to his adornment, as the crowning of the Buddha is part of certain Vajrayana initiation rites. At any rate, many Buddhas of the period are adorned, and the jewelry of this figure is consistent with the tendency, though it is more elaborate, particularly in its extensive inlay.
 This gesture, with the hand raised, palm facing out, is called abhaya mudra in Sanskrit. See Hiram W. Woodward, Jr., “The Buddha Images of Ayutthaya,” in McGill and Chirapravati 2005, 54, and 109–110, and Woodward 1997, 86. I would like to thank Hiram Woodward for our discussion of stylistic issues regarding this piece.
Nancy Tingley, "Standing Buddha," in The Arts of India, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas, Anne R. Bromberg (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 236.
- Scientific testing of this bronze through thermoluminescence analysis has yielded a date range of 600 to 1,000 years ago.