The exhibition features 80 of the finest surviving works from Ayutthaya (pronounced ah-YOOT-tah-yah), drawn from collections in Thailand, Europe, and the United States--many on view for the first time in the West. They 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 royal regalia and ceremonial objects; a full-sized temple pediment; and sections of royally commissioned temple doors with inlaid mother of pearl.
Ayutthaya was founded in 1351 and flourished as one of Southeast Asia’s largest and most important kingdoms for more than four hundred years. During the 1600s and early 1700s, the kingdom enjoyed great prosperity and cultural accomplishment, distinguishing Ayutthaya as more cosmopolitan and outward-looking than neighboring kingdoms. It outlived China’s Ming dynasty.
A major trade center, Ayutthaya had diplomatic ties with China, Japan, the Ryukyu kingdom (Okinawa), India, Persia, and with Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and Portugal. In 1686, the French, under King Louis XIV, received envoys from the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, or “Siam” as it was also known. The envoys brought with them two shiploads of gifts, the contents of which deeply impressed the French. The trove of gold, silver, and lacquer, more than fifteen hundred pieces of porcelain (mostly Chinese), Persian and Indian carpets, and many other splendid objects from Japan and China, suggested the worldliness and trading power of the Southeast Asian kingdom.
The people of Siam were of varied ethnicities (Thai, Mon, Cambodian, Chinese, Malay), and several languages were spoken in the kingdom, yielding a richly diverse artistic heritage that influenced the development of the Ayutthayan style. Two of the most impressive early works in the exhibition are monumental stone faces of Buddha images dating from circa 1374.
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