14 Museums racelet, gold, Khmer, 8th-10th century
Gold earrings inlaid with semi precious stones, Khmer, 6th-8th century
Gold earrings with inlaid with semi-precious stones, Khmer, 10th-12th century
The Southeast Asian Gold Museum by Denise Heywood
Exquisite gold earrings inlaid with amethyst, shimmering bracelets and pendants embellished with jade and onyx, necklaces and belts decorated with garnets and sapphires, all dating from 8th to 15th centuries, are among the artefacts in The Zelnik Collection of Vietnamese and Khmer Gold in Budapest, Hungary. To house these precious objects, the owner, István Zelnik, founded The Southeast Asian Gold Museum in a restored 19th-century villa which opened in September 2011 to great acclaim. This unique private collection, amassed by Dr Zelnik, is one of the largest of its kind in the world, made up of more than 1,000 items of jewellery, ritual objects and domestic articles, 5,000 porcelain objects, 10,000 faience and ceramic works, a pearl collection with 10,000 objects and 100 ivory carvings, with a market value estimated at US$1.5 billion. A high-ranking Hungarian diplomat, Dr Zelnik has been a dedicated collector of Asian art for more than 35 years. During the 1970s he was posted to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Fluent in Lao, Khmer, Vietnamese and Thai, he is a passionate collector not only of ancient Southeast Asian gold, silver and bronze, but also of Chinese porcelain and Angkorian sculpture.
His collection started in the wake of Vietnam’s tragic war torn history in the 1970s which resulted in the destruction of ancient monuments and the cessation of French scholarship initiated during the 19thcentury colonial regime in Indochina. Some 800,000 wealthy families fled the country and many offered their art works for sale. Diplomats, commercial representatives and citizens of socialist countries were able to export art works purchased in Vietnam legally, without customs duty. When western European collectors who had worked in foreign services overseas died or sold their works, Zelnik was able to purchase more pieces.
s the country gradually recovered, stone and brick ruins were reappraised by a new generation of archaeologists, while smaller objects that had vanished began to appear on the art market. Dr Zelnik was able to buy rings, bracelets, figurines, necklaces,
Twisted gold bracelet, Khmer, 6th-8th century
Gold standing statue of Shiva, 9th-10th century, Cham masks, breastplates, pectorals, amulets, pendants, brooches, boxes, votive plaques and ritual objects. Such objects have rarely come to light anywhere else. Zelnik was motivated by a love of the art and fascination with the objects he had bought. Years later he started to see Asian treasures in major museums in the West, studied auction catalogues and travelled to sales in London and Paris. He then enlisted the expertise of several notable scholars to study and make an inventory of his collection, including Janos Jelen, Lecturer at the Dharma Gate Budapest Buddhist University and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Royal Angkor Foundation, Dr Elizabeth Moore, Reader at the Department of Art and Archaeology, SOAS, University of London and Dr AnneValérie Schweyer, eminent epigraphist, historian and researcher at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris and author of an outstanding and groundbreaking new book, Ancient Vietnam. They have produced four volumes on the collection.
old was always highly prized in Cambodia and Vietnam and especially in China, where it was one of the Five Elements – metal, earth, water, fire, wood – a commodity with an intrinsic value and used as a form of payment in trade with India. In Southeast Asia it permeated many aspects of elite life: artistic, aesthetic, economic and religious, adorning temples, objects and royal personages. Gold artefacts were considered divine as well as regal, preserved for ceremonial and ritual rather than personal uses. Sculptures of the ruler were decorated with gold jewellery symbolically reflecting the golden hues of divine radiance, reinforcing the belief that he was a terrestrial replica of the celestial king, a god king, a devaraja. Crowns, diadems, earrings, brooches, belts, rings, amulets and hair accessories were symbols of power, status and wealth to be used by kings and their generals, while pots, bowls and boxes were made for ritual applications. The Chinese emissary to the court of Angkor in 1296, Zhou Daguan, described the monarch sumptuously bedecked in golden crown, diadem, bracelets and rings. The treasure towers of the principal temples contained statues of gold and inscriptions allude to numerous golden objects offered to temples. The 1,860 devatas carved on the walls of Angkor Wat, although almost naked, are sumptuously embellished with elaborate necklaces, diadems, rings, bracelets, anklets and belts, as if to highlight their sacred role in the temple, where they are both earthly and heavenly, sensual and sacred. The carvings attest not only to the brilliance of the sculptors but also to the ancient Khmer goldsmiths and silversmiths. The jewels depicted reveal an astonishingly high level of artistic creativity. In March of this year, a gold crown, mkot, possibly belonging to a dancer, was found in the temple of Ta Prohm at Angkor, although dating of the object has still to be confirmed. The predilection for gold for ceremony can still be seen today in Cambodia on the bejewelled classical dancers with their towering, glittering head-dresses, albeit reproduction rather than authentic materials.
Khmer bracelet in the collection, dating from 6th/8th century, deceptively simple in its circular form, is of hammered gold, decorated in repoussée (shaped by hammering from the reverse side) with intricate horizontal circular and swirling spiral forms and geometric motifs interspersed with evenly placed vertical decorated lines. It combines simplicity with complexity, achieving great elegance, the hallmark of Khmer adornments, together with technological expertise. Khmer goldsmiths usually hammered gold into fine sheets and decorated with repoussée, working from behind, thus rendering designs sharper on the reverse than on the front. A few gold pieces were made by ‘lost wax’ process, first modelled in wax.
Cham gold diadems and haircombs, inlaid with almandine, amethyst and zircon, were incised with zoo-omorphic imagery while earrings were exquisitely worked with minute details, featuring elephants, water buffalo, birds and mythological dragons.Cham rings were inlaid with sapphire, quartz, onyx and amethysts, delicately placed in single or multiple arrangements in rings that were made in the repoussée method and embossed or chased (the opposite of repoussée). Both Cham and Khmer earrings were imaginatively detailed with beading – a border of gold granules arranged in sequence - and with filigree – made with twisted fine gold threads like lace with curving motifs. Fine gold chains were also formed by a complex basketry technique in which long hammered strips of gold were braided together to create the chain, to which a lotus leaf adorned clasp was added. These are of exceptional beauty. At Angkor Wat, some of the devatas wear rings and bracelets identical to those represented here.
Cham pendant featuring a dvarapala, guardian deity, dating from 11th/12th century, is of outstanding design, its iconography resembling that of Cham sculpture. Adorned with fine beads in a straight line at the bottom, and in a curvilinear form on the sides, the pendant shows the deity with a double floral motif above the head, inlaid with garnet. Floral imagery inlaid with three garnets is symmetrically balanced on either side of the dvarapala who stands in the alidha pose, his weight on a slightly bent right leg. Equally sculptural and reminiscent of Cham statues, is an embossed gold medal featuring a four-armed dancing figure holding a vajra in her left hand and lotus in the right hand. Dating from 11th/12th century, in the late Chanh Lo style, it is enhanced with amethyst, zircons and garnet at the bottom.These artists did not facet their gems, so they are less brilliant. Stones, writes Dr Anne Valerie Schweyer, are associated with specific directions. East and south in the case of the ruby, west for the topaz, north for the diamond.The sapphire is attributed to both south-east and north-east. ‘The stones chosen by the kings of Champa seem to be those whose symbolical power was known for strengthening royal power – diamond, rock-crystal, ruby, sapphire,’ she concludes.
asian art June 2012 Museums
T H ROCKMORTON F I N E A R T
Kosa, sleeve or cover for a Shiva linga, gold, Khmer Mukhalinga showing the face of Shiva, from 13th-14th century, Khmer s well as jewels, the range of the goldsmith’s art included objects dedicated to the cult of Shiva, in particular the golden sleeve or cover, kosa, of the stone carved linga, the phallic symbol of the god. Shiva played an important role in the religious beliefs of the Chams as protector of the kingdom and the royal dynasty. His veneration in the form of the linga, symbolising his creative power, was widespread throughout Champa, as well as at Angkor. Creation of stone lingas ensured prosperity for the king and his subjects. In the Cham section of the museum there are a number of gold kosa. Descriptions proclaimed the kosa to be an important part of the mukhalinga symbol, a linga bearing an image of the face of Shiva, and the lingakosa would be exquisitely decorated with jewels and precious stones. The museum has the most impressive and best preserved collection of these pieces in the world.
remarkable kosa in gold is a Shiva head. It is characterised by a broad face with wide open, closely set eyes, a third eye in the centre of the forehead, elongated earlobes, a flat nose, a carefully delineated moustache over a broad mouth. The plaited locks of hair, jata, are piled up in a topknot to form a natural crown, jatamukuta. The braids of the deity are marked with a fishbone design. Stylistic affinities to similar portrayals from Tra Kieu, one of the ancient capitals of Champa, in Quang Nam province, suggest the dating of the 10th century.
n even more elaborate caturmukhalinga has four Shiva heads, similar in style to the single-headed one, but inlaid with rubies and balanced on silver repoussée base chased with lotus petals and fixed into a cylindrical pedestal. The finely worked heads in gold alloy with graceful almond shaped eyes, serene smiles and long necks are riveted to the body of the linga, with vertical holes in the elongated earlobes in which to place detachable earrings. The third eye in the middle of the forehead of each head contains a gemstone.The heads, rooted in Hindu mythology brought from India, face the four cardinal directions, symbolising Shiva’s omnipresence. A fifth head is mentioned in inscriptions and would have represented the zenith.
By contrast, a simple gold repoussée lingakosa from 9th/10th century follows the tradition of the rounded linga form, with a fine appearance of extreme simplicity and linear elegance. The pieces cast a new light on the ancient kingdoms of Angkor, in Cambodia, and Champa, in the centre of present day Vietnam, enabling scholars to date pieces more accurately. Champa was composed of small enclaves geographically defined by the mountains and the sea, with a long coastline that was strategic for maritime trade with China and India. Five distinctive areas of Champa’s civilisation over the centuries were identified by French scholar Henri Parmentier, from the Ecole Française d’Extrême Orient. In southwest Vietnam, the early port of Oc Eo and inland site of Angkor Borei were commercial centres for the Mekong Delta region, known as Funan by Chinese maritime traders, who came here from the 3rd century onwards. Remains of local metal workshops, with casting moulds have been uncovered by archaeologists in various areas. Although some gold was alluvial, gold ore deposits have also been identified recently in numerous sites in Cambodia..
Excavation in Cambodia, in the ancient royal capital Koh-Ker, is also part of the museum’s international cooperation with UNESCO. It runs a research institute, working with several international scientific organisations from France, Vietnam and Cambodia as well as the Hungarian Southeast Asian Research Institute, focusing on the historical background of the collection. As a private museum, its mission is not only to exhibit artefacts and to be a source of education and information, but to also promote research and scholarly investigations and to support field archaeology.
r Zelnik has also returned certain objects to Cambodia. Last December he handed over a silver, gilded plate, inscribed in old Khmer, dating from 1199, which he found for US$5 in a Bangkok flea market 20 years ago. French epigraphist Claude Jacques deciphered the inscription, revealing that it was given by King Jayavarman VI to his mother’s temple,Ta Prohm. A priceless artefact, as so few inscribed metal objects from the golden age of Angkor have survived, it was returned in a ceremony with the Director of the Phnom Penh National Museum, Oun Phalline, and the Representative of UNESCO, Anne Lemaistre, and Government Heritage Minister, Hab Touch. It had been exhibited at the Hungarian museum and will now be on view in Phnom Penh.
umerous exhibitions are planned. This spring, until June, the museum is showing a travelling exhibition of fine Chinese porcelain rescued from a shipwreck. In addition to permanent and temporary exhibitions, there is a traditional Asian Tea House and a tropical statue garden filled with orchids and rare plants.
r Zelnik has created an environment where scholars can study in greater depth and visitors can discover the beauty and meaning of Asian art.With vision and inspiration, he has turned a private pursuit into a passion he can share with the world, bringing knowledge of one of the world’s richest civilisations to an ever greater audience. The Istvan Zelnik Southeast Asian Gold Museum, Andrassy Avenue, H-1062 Budapest, Hungary, tel 361 482 3190, www.zelnik-collection.com.
Water-Moon Guanyin Bodhisattva liao Dynasty 916 -1125 Ce Gilt Bronze
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A hokei gata with yo-sukashi design of a sotoba stupa. Miyochin, Muromachi period, 14th century.
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june 2012 asian art