Thailand #1290 (1988)

Silpa Bhirasri Day / ศิลป์ พีระศรี

Thailand #1290 (1988)
Thailand #1290 (1988)

September 15 is commemorated in Thailand as the birthday of an Italian-born sculptor who is considered the father of modern art in the country. Silpa Bhirasri (ศิลป์ พีระศรี) was born Corrado Feroci in Florence, Italy, on September 15, 1892. He attended the Royal Academy of Art in Florence, receiving a certificate of painting and sculpture. Following graduation, he won many competitions for monument design. In 1923, Feroci was selected by the Italian government, at the request of Vajiravudh (พระมงกุฎเกล้าเจ้าอยู่หัว) — King Rama VI of Siam — to be employed as a sculptor at the Siamese Fine Arts Department of the Ministry of Palace Affairs.

Feroci was initially placed under a three-year contract with a salary of 800 baht a month. Beginning in 1926, he served under an unlimited contract as a teacher of sculpture at the Art Department of the Royal Institute with a salary of 900 baht. That year, he inspected the damage of Phra Buddha Trai Rattananayok at Wat Phanan Choeng in Ayutthaya. In 1929, Feroci began modelling a statue of King Rama the Great (Rama I) which would later be installed at the Phra Buddha Yod Fah Bridge (Memorial Bridge) in Bangkok. Upon the opening of the bridge and unveiling of the statue in 1932, he was conferred the Most Exalted Order of the White Elephant, 5th Class. In 1933, he was instrumental in establishing the School of Fine Arts which became Silpakorn School two years later and established as Silpakorn University on October 1, 1943.

Perhaps Silpa Bhirasri’s best-known works are the relief sculptures around the base of the Democracy Monument (Anusawari Prachathipatai — อนุสาวรีย์ประชาธิปไตย) in Bangkok. Commissioned in 1939 to commemorate the 1932 Siamese coup d’état which led to the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in what was then the Kingdom of Siam, by its military ruler, Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram. Phibun saw the monument as the center of what he envisaged as a new, Westernised Bangkok, “making Thanon [road] Ratchadamnoen the Champs-Élysées and the Democracy Monument the Arc de Triomphe” of Bangkok. The building of the monument was highly unpopular at the time. Local residents and shopkeepers (mostly Chinese) were evicted from their homes and businesses with 60 days’ notice. The widening of Ratchadamnoen Road to create a ceremonial boulevard involved cutting down hundreds of shade trees, a serious matter in the days before air conditioning, given Bangkok’s torrid climate.

When Italy surrendered to the Allies during World War II, Feroci changed his name to disguise his Italian origin and thus avoid arrest by the occupying Japanese army. Silpa Bhirasri became a Thai national in 1944. Previously estranged from his wife in Italy, in 1959 he married one of his Thai students, Malini. He died of intestinal cancer on May 14, 1962, Articles published in Thailand state that he received a royal-sponsored cremation on January 17, 1963, at Wat Thepsirintarawas. However, Wikipedia says that he is buried in the Cimitero Evangelico degli Allori in the southern suburb of Florence, Galluzzo. He was posthumously awarded the Most Noble Order of the Crown of Thailand. The centenary of his birth was marked by a Thai stamp released in 1992 (Scott #1502).

Scott #1290, released on December 5, 1988, as part of a set of five stamps plus one souvenir sheet, pictures Phra Si Sakkaya Thotsaphonlayan Prathan Phutthamonthon Suthat (พระศรีศากยะทศพลญาณ ประธานพุทธมณฑลสุทรรศน์) which translates to “the Graceful Statue of the Shakyamuni who was of the Tenfold Power, the Presiding Buddha of the Beautiful Phutthamonthon”. This is the highest free-standing Buddha statue in the world, rising to a height of 52 feet (15.87 meters), and is the centerpiece of Buddha Monthon, a Buddhist park in the Sub-District of Salaya, Phutthamonthon District, Nakhon Pathom Province west of Bangkok. The park was created in 1957 (the year 2500 in the Thai Buddhist Era) on the basis of an idea of Thailand’s prime minister, Phibunsongkhram, to commemorate the 2500th year of Buddhism. The park covers an area of about 1000 acres, which in Thai units is 2500 rai. Construction started on July 29, 1955, and the park was inaugurated on Vesak Bucha Day (May 13) in 1957.

After a long pause, construction on the park resumed in 1976. Although designed in 1955 by Silpa Bhirasri, the statue wasn’t cast until 1981. The molding and casting were supervised by Saroj Jarak. The walking Buddha image was cast in burnished black metal and finished in 1982. The Royal name was later conferred by His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej (King Rama IX of Thailand). Around the statue are sites memorializing the four main stations in the life of the Buddha: his birth symbolized by seven lotus flowers, his Enlightenment under the Bodhi tree, his first sermon and his death. Another important building is the marble viharn, which contains the entire Buddhist canon engraved in 1418 marble stelas. There is also a patriarch temporary residence, a guest-monk residence, a religious ceremonies hall, meditation halls, a Buddhism museum, and ornamental flower gardens. Important Buddhist ceremonies and festivities such as the Vesak Bucha Day, Makha Bucha Day, Asanha Bucha Day, the Loy Krathong Festival, and others are held here. The park is also popular with joggers due to the many trees shading a track encircling the grounds.

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