Anton Lawrendra, Tin Do
Chapter 25: Sultans, Kings, Emperors, and Colonists
The Art of South and Southeast Asia after 1200
The art of South and Southeast Asia after 1200 expressed ideas and beliefs about:
-Divine forces that control the universe
-The search for spiritual peace
-Cycles of birth, death, and reincarnation
-Respect for all living beings
-Glorifying gods, kings, and emperors
Idealized Human Forms
Following the conventions of Indian art, Southeast Asian artists sought to visualize the spiritual perfection
of the gods in idealized human form. Although the iconography was imported from India, notable
differences are evident in Southeast Asian sculpture.
The sculpture combines sensual forms with a strong architectonic basis, as if the sensuality of Indian
sculpture had been merged with the formal, hieratic qualities of Egyptian sculpture. Although surface
flesh seems to be inflated by prana (inner breath), the body is not usually as taut as in Indian sculpture.
Beneath the skin surface, whose junctures are subtly indicated, there is the sense of muscle and bone. The
sensuality and fecundity expressed in Khmer female figures are not as exaggerated and seem restrained
when compared with the voluptuous femininity typical of Indian art. Later Southeast Asian sculptures are
even more abstracted, and forms cease to have a direct relationship to the human anatomy.
In general, a sense of dignity and restraint is created in the sculpture by an erect posture, frontal pose, and
balanced forms. Serene expressions emphasize the compassion, purity, and introspection of transcendent
In comparison to Indian sculpture, less emphasis is placed on adornment. Smooth areas contrast with the
rich patterns of the figure’s hairstyle and the pleats of the garment and the elaborate way in which it is
worn. Some images were probably adorned with actual jewelry.
Sculpture in the Round and in Relief
Unlike Indian sculptural figures, which were rarely more than carvings in very high relief as part of a
stela or for display in a niche, Southeast Asian deities were often carved fully in the round. A tradition of
low-relief sculpture also flourished.
As in South Asian art, to express the power and complexity of the gods or kings, sculptures of them were
sometimes represented on a superhuman scale, while lesser spiritual beings were portrayed smaller.
Overview: South Asia
The civilization of the Indian subcontinent is one of the oldest in the world. Its cultural continuities, and
its powerful influence across most of Asia, can be traced from ancient times. India is the home of
Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Jain religions. Its contributions to Southeast Asian cultures, transmitted
through trade and commercial contact, transformed tribal societies of the region into a series of kingdoms