Welcome back to our regular series, Asian Antiques Destination of the Week. This time, we’re taking a trip to Thailand – an ancient kingdom in south-east Asia with a rich artistic history. It’s a treasure trove for antiques collectors with a special interest in statuary or ceramics.
What makes Thai art special?
Thailand, once known as Siam, is the only south-east Asian country which has always remained independent. So it’s had the space and time to develop a cultural tradition that is truly unique. It draws influences from India, China and Cambodia together – and makes them into something completely new.
The Buddhist religion is very important in Thai culture, and it has a strong presence in Thai art and culture. That presence is expressed in Buddhist statuary, paintings, temples and shrines around the country. Thai artists developed and refined images of the Buddha, and they have continued to influence Buddhist art ever since the 13th century.
There are also many artistic depictions of stories from Thai folklore and mythology, with epic tales of princes, battles, and wild animals.
What to look out for
Thai art is divided into three main periods: Dwaravati, Sukhothai, and Ayutthaya.
Most of the antiques which survive from the Dwaravati period are Indian-influenced, Buddhist scultpures. But by the Sukhothai period, beginning in the 13th or 14th century, a more uniquely Thai style started to emerge.
Sukhothai statues are elegant and smooth, often depicting the Buddha as an idealized, slim figure. And they are set apart from the Dwaravati and Ayutthaya periods by their use of cast metal. And it was in this period that Thai artists developed four of the classic Buddha poses: walking, standing, sitting, and reclining.
The Sukhothai period also produced some beautiful glazed ceramics.
Finally, the Ayutthaya period brought new innovations and new materials. This is an important period for collectors of stone statuary. There are also stunning works of Ayutthaya art in brick and stucco, metal, and with gold leaf decoration. For an example of this style, take a look at our Thai Buddha in metal leaf.