[Lecture] Bronze Drums of Southeast Asia by Jacques de Guerny

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Lecture at the Siam Society, Bangkok on 1 November 2018.

DATE: Thursday, 1 November 2018
TIME: 7:00 p.m.
PLACE: The Siam Society, 131 Asoke Montri Rd, Sukhumvit 21

The Bronze Age produced revolutionary innovations like the drums, stronger and more sonorous than their wooden and skin predecessors. They created new rites and bestowed on their owners a prestige even in the afterlife. On their drumhead (tympanum) and their cylindrical base, the drums were engraved with decorations open to interpretation, including the iconic frogs deemed to control the rain. Southeast Asian communities bestowed a new mission on the drums, not only as a source of sound but also to evoke values deemed crucial for everyday life or for the afterlife, from the steppes to the tropics. From inception to the present, the evolution of bronze drums spans around 2,500 years. Rituals have been conducted in their presence, from modern south China and Vietnam to Indonesia, including Indochina and Thailand. Bronze, an alloy resistant to corrosion, elevated the status of these objects from simple pots to valuable masterpieces of creativity, at the crossroads of spiritual and commercial values. They belong to the treasures of humanity, housed within museums around the world and still used at solemn ceremonies, including the funeral rites in October 2017 of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol Adulyadej. In my talk, I will trace the evolution of bronze drums across centuries and Southeast Asian cultures, in Cambodia, China, Laos, Indonesia/Bali, Malaysia, Myanmar/Burma, Thailand and Vietnam.

Unearthed bronze workshop suggests centralised production

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Crucible found at workshop site. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20160305

A new paper in the BEFEO details the discovery of a large bronze workshop found near the ancient palace in Angkor Thom, which suggests a centralised production of the metal sculptures.

Crucible found at workshop site. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20160305

Crucible found at workshop site. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20160305

Digging for where the gods were constructed
Phnom Penh Post, 05 March 2016

12th Century Bronze Workshop Found in Cambodia
New Historian, 15 March 2016

One of the most famous bronze sculptures found at Angkor is the West Mebon Vishnu. Dating to the 11th century, the piece now at Phnom Penh’s National Museum is merely a fragment – albeit a car-sized one – of the top half of a reclining Vishnu.

Archaeologists estimate the four-armed Hindu deity’s original length at six metres, which makes it comparable to the largest bronzes in the region. Ancient artists would have spent months slaving over it. Yet where Angkorian bronze makers would have spent those months in toil has long puzzled researchers – until now.

The discovery of a sprawling bronze workshop found adjacent to the ancient Royal Palace of Angkor has gone a long way in solving the riddle. The significance of the site was first revealed during a dig in 2012, but the first-ever comprehensive report was published late last month in the 100th edition of the Bulletin de l’École Française d’Extrême-Orient (BEFEO), a journal that has reported the major archaeological finds of Angkor since 1901.

Full stories here and here.

Categories: Angkor Metallurgy

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A Dong Son drum in East Timor

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Source: Viet Nam Net 20151203

A hint into the potential archaeology from East Timor – the discovery of a bronze Dong Son drum in Baucau. There have been several such drums found in East Timor now, and similar drums turn up all over Southeast Asia which suggests a rather extensive exchange network of either goods or expertise across the region 2,000 years ago.

Source: Viet Nam Net 20151203

Source: Viet Nam Net 20151203

Vietnam’s ancient Dong Son drum found in Timor Leste
Viet Nam Net, 03 december 2015

A relatively intact bronze drum believed to belong to the Dong Son culture, originating in Vietnam over 2,000 years ago, has recently been discovered in Timor Leste.

The drum, 1.03 metres in diameter, 78 cm in height, and 80kg in weight, was found accidentally at a construction site in Baucau, the second largest city in Timor Leste, in late 2014. However, official information was just released in late November this year after researchers had conducted preliminary assessment.

Archaeologist Nuno Vasco Oliveira from the Timor Lester Government’s General Directorate of Art and Culture said he is certain that the item is a Dong Son bronze drum – an icon of the Dong Son culture (700 B.C. – 100 AD) of the ancient Vietnamese people.

This is not the first time a Dong Son drum has been found in Timor Leste. The ones previously unearthed were badly damaged while the newly found item is in a relatively good condition.

Full story here.

Bronze goddess statue returned to India

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Returned bronze statue of Uma. Source: Straits Times 20151106

The Asian Civilisations Museum in Singapore has officially handed the 11th century bronze statue of Uma to India, after it was identified as stolen during the investigation of antiquities dealer Subash Kapoor.

Returned bronze statue of Uma. Source: Straits Times 20151106

Returned bronze statue of Uma. Source: Straits Times 20151106

Asian Civilisations Museum hands back sculpture identified as stolen to India
Straits Times, 06 November 2015

Asian Civilisations Museum returns 11th century sculpture to India
Today, 07 November 2015

The Asian Civilisations Museum has returned to the Indian authorities an 11th-century bronze sculpture in its possesion, which has been identified as stolen from India.

The museum had last month informed the Archaeological Survey of India and the High Commission of India to Singapore of its plan to return the religious icon depicting the Hindu goddess Uma Parameshwari.

The sculpture is among hundreds of stolen cultural artefacts amounting to over $148 million in an ongoing international art smuggling case. They are believed to have been looted and sold to museums by disgraced New York art dealer Subhash Kapoor, 65, who is awaiting trial in India on charges of theft and smuggling.

Full story here and here.

Asian Civilisations Museum to return statue to India

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Statue of Uma Parameshvari to be returned by the Asian Civilisations Museum. Source: Straits Times 20151020

After a formal request by the government of India, the Asian Civilisations Museum will return a bronze statue of Uma Parameshvari, which was identified as stolen in the recent high-profile antiquities looting case of Subhash Kapoor.

Statue of Uma Parameshvari to be returned by the Asian Civilisations Museum. Source: Straits Times 20151020

Statue of Uma Parameshvari to be returned by the Asian Civilisations Museum. Source: Straits Times 20151020

Asian Civilisations Museum to return ‘stolen’ 11th-century artefact to India
The Straits Times, 20 October 2015

Asian Civilisations Museum to return sculpture identified as stolen from India
Channel NewsAsia, 19 October 2015

The Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) said yesterday it would return a sculpture identified as stolen, upon the request of the Indian government.

‘Stolen’ artefact puts murky issues in spotlight
The Straits Times, 23 October 2015

The 11th-century bronze sculpture depicting Hindu goddess Uma Parameshvari is among hundreds of stolen cultural artefacts amounting to over $148 million in an ongoing international art smuggling case. They are believed to have been looted and sold to museums by disgraced New York art dealer Subhash Kapoor, 65, who is awaiting trial in India on charges of theft and smuggling.

In a press statement, the ACM said it had bought the sculpture from Kapoor’s now-defunct gallery Art of the Past for US$650,000 (S$900,000) in 2007.

Full story here and here.