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Page |1
HISTORY OF KHMER ART
THE PRE-ANGKORIAN PERIOD
(2nd half of the 6th century – beginning of the 9th century)
Phnom Da Style (514-600)
Sambor Prei Kuk Style (600-650)
Prei Khmeng Style (635-700)
Prasat Andet Style (657-681)
Kompong Preah Style (706-800)
(THE TRANSITIONAL PERIOD)
Kulen Style (802-875)
THE ANGKORIAN PERIOD
(9th century - 1431)
Preah Ko Style (875-895)
Bakheng Style (893-925)
Koh Ker Style (921-945)
Pre Rup Style (944-967)
Banteay Srei Style (967-1000)
Khleang Style (965-1010)
Baphuon Style (1010-1080)
Angkor Vat Style (1100-1175)
Bayon Style (1180-1230)
THE POST-ANGKORIAN PERIOD
(1431 - the present)
Page |2
THE PRE-ANGKORIAN PERIOD (2nd half of the 6th century –
beginning of the 9th century)
It is generally accepted that this period begins with the fall of Fu-nan
and ends, not with the founding of Angkor, which did not take place
until the last years of the 9th century, but with the introduction (in the
first half of the 9th century) of the rites upon which the kingship of
Angkor was to be based. The oldest (Buddhist) images are no earlier
than the middle of the 6th century. The somewhat later (early 7th
century and period following) Brahminic monuments already exhibit
some of the traditional features of Khmer architecture. There exist only a
few fine examples of Pre-Angkorian art. This period marks the
beginnings of the Khmer world, in which a distinct personality gradually
affirms itself, while globally remaining under foreign influences. The
belief in the cult of the 'god-king', do not as yet exist. Nevertheless, the
art of this period lays down the basis for sculptural symbolism, and
inaugurates architectural forms which will be reused and later improved
upon. Pre-Angkorian statuary witnesses an Indian influence, but
anatomical representation is less dramatic. Sculptors used a support arch
for figurative representations with many arms. Stone sculpture is
characterized by its delicacy of execution, as well as its respect for
plastic and anatomical form.
Page |3
Phnom Da Style (514-600)
Sculpture: Evolution of statuary from high relief to free-standing
sculpture. The works display typical Indian movement of the torso, often
with a support arch to provide stability.
Page |4
Architecture: The architecture of the sixth century is almost unknown.
Brick terraces were found at Angkor Borei dating from the Funan
period. No other remains have been found in Cambodia to date.
(Left)Avalokiteshvara, Guimet, Paris (Right)Vishnu, National Museum of Cambodia
Page |5
Sambor Prei Kuk Style(600-650)
Sculpture: The statuary presents little evidence of sensuality or erotism
and is rather modest. The statuary is modeled with great sensibility.
Temple decoration is mostly composed of bas-reliefs.
Page |6
Architecture: The basis of Khmer architecture is the sanctuary (Prasat).
This sanctuary can be found either isolated or in groups (very often 5
sanctuaries), it is composed of individual elements such as lintels,
columns, pediments and decorative panels. The temples are sometimes
octagonal, square or rectangular.
Devi, Sambor Prei Kuk, National Museum of Cambodia
Page |7
Prei Khmeng Style (635-700)
Religion: Shivaism and Mahayana Buddhism . An inscription (791) was
found in Siem Reap, which mentions the image of the bodhisattva
Lokeshvara. It is supporting evidence of the existence of Mahayana
Buddhism in Cambodia.
Sculpture: The sculptures are generally smaller than the previous styles.
The support arch is still present.
Page |8
Architecture: This style witnesses some changes in architectural
decoration, in continuity with the Sambor Prei Kuk style.
Avalokiteshvara, Guimet, Paris
Page |9
Prasat Andet Style (657-681)
Religion: Shivaism and linga cult, Mahayana Buddhism loses influence
among the people.
Sculpture: Artistic representation codes change; the search for delicacy
and slenderness witness great sharpness of observation. Hindu sculptures
are carved in the round. The linga is increasingly represented.
Harihara, Prasat Andet, National Museum of Cambodia
Architecture: This style has no specific characteristics of architectural
decoration.
P a g e | 10
Kompong Preah Style (706-800)
Religion: Hinduism
Sculpture: Human sculpture is stylized. On the walls of temples, some
isolated figures appear (Javanese or Cham influences).
Architecture: The "temple mountain" structure seems to appear at this
time (Ak Yum).
Vishnu, Kampong Preah style, National Museum of Cambodia
P a g e | 11
Kulen Style (802-875)
Jayavaraman II unified the country and declared the Khmer kingdom
secure. Mahendraparavata (present-day Phnom Kulen) and Hariharalaya
(present-day Roluos) were the central cities of Jayavaraman II.
The Kulen style is a transitional style which commenced in the PreAngkorian period and concluded in the Angkorian period.
Religion: Hinduism, cult of Shiva, God-King (Cakravartin).
Sculpture: Becomes more formalized and less natural. The body of the
statue is solid and the chest cleaved. The face is square and the weight
balanced on the left leg, with the right left set slightly forward. The
supporting arch is no longer necessary. The first headdresses, the
symbols of royalty become characteristic of the Angkorian period.
P a g e | 12
Architecture: Brick sanctuaries with stucco are found at some locations.
Most sanctuaries are isolated. Appearance of the "mountain-temple".
The architecture and some elements of decoration show influence from
Champa (Temple of Damrei Krap) and from Java.
Vishnu, Kulen style, National Museum of Cambodia
P a g e | 13
THE ANGKORIAN PERIOD (9th century - 1431)
The productions of the first half of the 9th century (Kulen style) mirror
the transition from Pre-Angkorian to Angkorian art very faithfully. The
latter was soon dominated by royal patronage, which inspired the
building of great complexes even before the founding of Angkor (Preah
Ko, Bakong) and imposed a particular style upon most of the buildings
founded during this period.
Preah Ko Style (875-895)
Roluos is situated slightly inland to the north of the Tonle Sap Lake and
became the capital.
Religion: Hinduism, Shivaism, reinforcement of the God-King cult.
Sculpture: The deep stucco relief is deeply carved, with a play of
sumptuous arabesques over a plain background. The sandstone bas-relief
makes its appearance at Bakong, along with the first narrative frescoes.
Sculpture is highly stylized, and the modelling somewhat coarse. The
Garuda-Naga pattern appears, along with the representations of various
divinities.
Architecture: Brick is still used for construction. At Roluos, the Bakong
is the first sandstone "mountain-temple" in the history of Khmer
architecture. Preah Ko groups six brick towers on a raised terrace.
P a g e | 14
(Left) Shiva, Preah Ko style, National Museum of Cambodia (Right) Vishnu, Preah Ko, National Musum of Cambodia
P a g e | 15
Bakheng Style (893-925)
This period marks a very important event in the life of the Khmer
Kingdom. King Yasovaraman (889-900) founds the first Angkorian
capital, with Phnom Bakheng as its centre.
This style marks an important step in the evolution of Khmer art;
sculpture appears more powerful, and detached from previous
iconographical influences.
Religion: Hinduism, God-King, Trimurti (Brahma, Shiva, Vishnu)
Sculpture: Is characterized by geometrical forms and austerity,
particularly in the faces, that are now idealized. The attitude of the
statues becomes fixed, and the pose is strictly frontal. Carving is deeper
and stylization begins. The medium increasingly is sandstone which is
handled with an extraordinary precision and lightness, as dictated by the
new material.
Architecture: The "temple-mountain" becomes larger with Phnom
Bakheng, built at the summit of a natural moutain.
P a g e | 16
Devi, Bakheng style, Guimet, Paris
P a g e | 17
Koh Ker Style (921-945)
The Koh Ker site is 100 kilometers northeast of Angkor. It was the
capital of King Jayavarman IV.
Religion: Hinduism, Shiva and linga cults.
Sculpture: Statuary is almost always on a large scale and conveys a
sense of power and grandeur which overrides anatomical truth. The
statues show dynamic force and movement which is unexpected in
Khmer art.
Architecture: The "temple-mountain" rises to considerable heights, with
long halls, and almost certainly roofs of timber that enrich the
architectural composition. The construction of the 30 meter-high
pyramid at Koh Ker and extremely sophisticated bas-reliefs on brick at
Prasat Kravan.
P a g e | 18
Brahma, Koh Ker style, Guimet, Paris
P a g e | 19
Pre Rup Style (944-967)
The capital was moved from Koh Ker back to Angkor.
Religion: Hinduism, God-King cult, Buddhist renaissance (Mahayana)
Sculpture: Statuary is formalized with increased frontality and simple
decoration.
Architecture: Improvement on innovations from the previous style.
Buddhist temples were constructed (Prasat Bat Chum).
P a g e | 20
Vajimukha, Pre Rup style, Guimet, Paris
P a g e | 21
Banteay Srei Style (967-1000)
Banteay Srei was built by a dignitary, rather than the King.
Religion: Hinduism and Shivaism
Sculpture: The decoration is as rich and confident as the narrative
scenes. The ornamentation reflects a perfect mastery of sculpting, and a
new fluidity. The lintels show signs of borrowing from earlier styles
(Preah Ko), and their decoration usually has an anecdotal element. The
face of the statues retain the characteristics of the Koh Ker style, but
appear more delicate. Reddish sandstone is used.
Architecture: The temple of Banteay Srei was built on a raised platform.
P a g e | 22
Avalokiteshvara, Banteay Srei style, Guimet, Paris
P a g e | 23
Khleang Style (965-1010)
Religion: Hinduism, Buddhism.
Sculpture: Little notable evolution in this style, apart from
simplification. The statues inherit some modelling of earlier periods, but
in a less rugged form.
Architecture: The finer details seem to show the influence of the
Banteay Srei style.
P a g e | 24
Vishnu, Khleang style, Guimet Museum, Paris
P a g e | 25
Baphuon Style (1010-1080)
Religion: Hinduism, Shiva cult, Buddhism is tolerated.
Sculpture: This style is deeply innovative, harmony and search for
perfection are its fundamental characteristics. Shapes are elegant and
fluid, the expressions of faces soft, yet inner strength and natural forms
are evident. Decoration and figurative ornamentation are abundant,
every available space is sculpted.
The bronze Vishnu is one of the masterworks of bronze Khmer statuary,
as much for its beauty as for the technical tour de force that is
represented by the casting of such a large statue.
Architecture: Monuments take inspiration from all the preceding styles,
as seen in the Baphuon temple.
P a g e | 26
Vishnu, Baphuon
P a g e | 27
Angkor Vat Style (1100-1175)
This style corresponds to the apogee of the classical age, it extends the
Baphuon style: harmony, perfect mastery of materials, equilibrium,
perspective science, quality of decoration and composition. Use of
previous architectural elements continues in a multiple and varied way,
leading to a new symbolic and functional significance.
Religion: Hinduism, and mostly Vishnuism under the reign of
Suryavarman II.
Sculpture: The statues of Angkor Vat break from the grace of the
previous style, with a return to a frontal and rigid posture. The repeated
use of characteristics from earlier styles reflects the conservative nature
of Khmer sculpture of this style.
P a g e | 28
Architecture: The architecture is at its apogee with Angkor Vat.
P a g e | 29
Vishnu, Angkor Vat style, National Museum of Cambodia
P a g e | 30
Bayon Style (1180-1230)
Buddhist art is at its height, and Buddhist themes prevail, though Hindu
legends are still represented. This style is monumental, aesthetics shows
a clear return to realism.
Religion: Buddhist preponderance (Mahayana).
Sculpture: Iconography is more varied, symbolism gains in importance
and the first scenes of contemporary daily life appear. Towards the end
of the 12th century, Khmer art also produce portraiture. This fragment of
a statue (left) is thought to be an image of King Jayavarman VII.
P a g e | 31
Architecture: In architecture, huge level temple complexes evolve,
rendered more and more complicated by endless additions. At the
beginning of the second phase of the style the avenues of giants and
devas make their appearance at entrances to temples and the city of
Angkor Thom. The entrance gates and the associated towers are carved
with faces. The Bayon remains a unique temple mountain with its
circular central tower and its forest of some 54 subsidiary towers carved
with benignly smiling visages. The last buildings of this period become
more and more complex, and their structures are less readable.
(Left) Avalokiteshvara, Bayon (Right) Prajnaparamita, Bayon
P a g e | 32
THE POST-ANGKORIAN PERIOD (1431 - the present)
With the collapse of centralized power and management at Angkor, the
transition between Angkorian and post-Angkorian art can be read in the
light of wars, political upheavals and a migratory existence that resulted
in a use of less permanent materials (wood instead of stone) and a lack
of artisans.
P a g e | 33
The progressive adoption of Theravada Buddhism provoked deep
changes in all forms of Khmer art. Siamese (Thailand) influences from
the Ayutthaya Kingdom, as well as influences from Champa, are also
obvious. New types of buildings are erected, sculpture obeys new
conventions, and the previous monuments are often modified. The
greatness and all-powerful influence of the reign of Jayavarman VII are
replaced by a sense of restraint and humility in sculpture. An impression
of peaceful power emanates, particularly from the representations of
Buddha. Nonetheless, Khmer art retains its unique characterisitcs.
Tevoda Gallery
Thailand
www.tevoda.com
Reference:
Diskul, M.C.Subhadradis. Khmer Sculptures. Bangkok (Thailand):
Silpakorn, 1968.
Bunker, Emma C. & Latchford, Douglas . Adoration and Glory - The
Golden Age of Khmer Art. Chicago (USA): Art Media Resources, 2004.
Groslier, George. La sculpture khmère ancienne / Illus. de 175
reproductions horstexte en similigravure. Paris (France): G. Crès,
1929.

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