April 20, 2015

At the Met: The Whorls of Ancient Southeast Asia

Armlet, Thailand, ca. 300 B.C.-A.D. 200; bronze, 6 1/16 x 3 in.

On my most recent visit to the Met, because of some closed galleries in the Asian wing I wandered into a gallery I'd never seen before––gallery 244––comprising early Southeast Asian art. You can see all the objects in the gallery at the link. What most interested me were the objects with curvilinear patterns that flowed across forms. In the armlet above, bands of thick curves, looking like unceasing waves, are repeated from the top to the bottom of an indented cylindrical form. The rhythm is enhanced by thicker horizontal lines breaking the pattern and thinner lines across it. There's a lilting movement in this ancient bronze.

Container with Spiral Decoration, Thailand, ca. 500 B.C.-A.D. 300; bronze, H. 8 7/8 in.

Here is another marvelous use of curves on flatter surfaces. The interlocking linear circles are full of energy, and remind me, oddly, of van Gogh's Starry Night. The reference isn't too surprising, though, since I'm sure that the artists who made these works were tied to a long tradition of referring to the natural world.

Bracelet with Conical Spirals, Thailand, ca. 300 B.C.-A.D. 200; bronze, diam. 3 15/16 in.
Bracelet with Conical Bosses; Thailand, ca. 300 B.C.-A.D. 200; bronze, 2 1/8 x 3 3 1/6 in.
Small Cuff with Concentric Circles, Thailand, ca. 300 B.C.-A.D. 200; bronze.

I loved seeing the inventive expressions of curved forms, from a wacky bracelet bristling with spirals, to multiple protuberant cones, to a more simply designed cuff. 

Pair of Pellet Bangles, Cambodia, ca. 500 B.C.-A.D 300; bronze, 1 1/16 x 2 15/16 in.

Five little spheres attach to rounded bracelets; raised lines formed like woven rope connect them. I think that the rope-like lines must refer to a form before bronze, perhaps a basket.

Bracelet (or anklet) with Two Spirals, Thailand, 300 B.C.-A.D. 200; bronze, 1 3/4 x 4 in. 

I love these coils, like ferns about to unfurl. In this piece too are delicately incised lines on the double band. They may refer to rope, or it could be part of a desire to decorate, to not leave a surface unadorned.

Five Earrings, Thailand, ca. 500B.C.-A.D. 300; glass, ivory (white disk), ca. 1 in.

I was completely delighted by this group of earrings, especially the curved glass pieces, with their cheerful air. According to a wall label in the gallery, not much is known about this period of Southeast Asian art, but it is very clear that the artists/artisans working then had a finely tuned sense of design.


  1. Just goes to show we humans have always like to adorn our bodies with pretties.

    1. Yes, Lisa. I'm continue to be surprised, though I shouldn't be, as to how we humans continue to have age-old sensibilities.