Released April 26, 2005
On View: July 16 to Oct.16, 2005
Location: Peabody Essex Museum
East India Square
Salem, MA 01970
About the Exhibition:
The Kingdom of Siam: The Art of Central Thailand, 1350-1800 is the world’s first major exhibition of art from Thailand’s lost kingdom of Ayutthaya, which outlived China’s Ming dynasty and shone with similar brilliance. The exhibition, featuring approximately 80 rare works borrowed from collections in Thailand, Europe, and the United States, showcases the superb but little known arts of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya—one of the largest and most important kingdoms in Southeast Asia. The art works—many on view for the first time in the West—include stone and bronze Buddha images, sculptures of Hindu deities, figural and decorative wood carvings, temple furnishings, illustrated manuscripts, jewelry and textiles. Among the highlights are gold ceremonial objects from a temple crypt sealed in 1424; a full-sized temple pediment; and sections of royally-commissioned temple doors with inlaid mother of pearl. The exhibition was prepared by the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, in conjunction with the National Museums of Thailand.
The Peabody Essex Museum is the exclusive East Coast venue for this landmark exhibition.
While nearly all aspects of the art of culture of China, Japan, and India have been extensively studied, notably less research currently exists on the cultural contributions of Southeast Asia. The Kingdom of Siam: The Art of Central Thailand, 1350-1800 and its accompanying catalogue will make an important contribution to the body of knowledge in the field of Southeast Asian art—especially the crucial period of 1400 to 1800.
The kingdom of Ayutthaya, founded in 1351, flourished for more than 400 years—longer than China’s Ming dynasty. It was a major trading center with diplomatic ties with China, Japan, Persia, the Ryukyu kingdom (Okinawa), and, from the 17th century on, with Great Britain, France, Holland, and Portugal. In contrast to neighboring kingdoms, including perpetual rival Burma, Ayutthaya was cosmopolitan and outward?looking. The 1600s and early 1700s were a period of great prosperity and cultural accomplishment for the kingdom. Despite its strengths, increasing pressures from Burma eventually weakened the kingdom, and it was devastated by a Burmese invasion in 1767. As a result, many of Ayutthaya artifacts, especially those made of fragile materials, were destroyed. The Kingdom of Siam will provide American audiences with the unique opportunity to see some of the finest surviving works.
The Kingdom of Siam: The Art of Central Thailand, 1350-1800 draws out several key points:
- The development of a distinct national culture: The people of Siam were of varied ethnicities (Thai, Mon, Khmer, Chinese, Malay), and used several languages. Their artistic heritage was also very mixed. This diversity influenced the development of a characteristic “Ayutthaya style”, which evolved slowly over the course of a century or more.
- Cosmopolitanism and the importance of trade: From the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries, Ayutthaya exported its goods and was a major trade center, and the activities of foreign merchants there have been studied in some detail. Foreign objects, however, and their impact in Siam, have sometimes been overlooked. The import and export of goods was important in the founding and the early development of the kingdom of Siam.
- Art as an instrument of royal power: In Ayutthaya, as elsewhere, kings sponsored monuments and artworks to reinforce specific political or social ideas. Only recently have scholars studied this phenomenon in detail.
CURATORS: Dr. Forrest McGill, Chief Curator and Wattis Curator of South and Southeast Asian Art, Asian Art Museum; and M. L. Pattaratorn Chirapravati, Assistant Professor of Asian art, California State University, Sacramento
PUBLICATION: The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue. Included are essays on the history, art, and culture of Ayutthaya by Hiram Woodward, the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore; Henry Ginsburg, the British Library, London; Dhiravat na Pombejra, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok; Santi Leksukhum, Silpakorn University, Bangkok; Pattaratorn Chirapravati, California State University, Sacramento; and Forrest McGill, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco
MEDIA PREVIEW: A media preview for The Kingdom of Siam will be held on Tuesday, July 12, 2005, from 12 to 2 p.m. Complimentary lunch will be served. Please RSVP to Rehana_abbas@pem.org or call 978-745-9500 x3228.
IMAGES: Digital images are available.