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Source: Bangkok Post

Published: 3/09/2011

Over the hundreds of years the Khmer Empire reigned in what is now Cambodia, thousands of pieces of bronzeware were cast. As time passed, and casting techniques improved, the artworks grew more intricate, and depicted more complicated scenes.

Khmer Bronzes: New Interpretations of the Past
Authors: Emma C Bunker and Douglas Latchford 544 Pages, 2011 Art Media Resources, Chicago 3,595 baht

Many of these pieces have been lost to time, making those that remain valuable collectors’ items. Most of the known pieces are tucked away in private collections, or in museums around the globe. Now a new book gives readers an opportunity to see the breadth of Khmer bronze work, from the earliest pre-empire drums to the most fantastic statues.

With Khmer Bronzes: New Interpretations of the Past, Emma C Bunker and Douglas Latchford complete their trilogy of intensely detailed studies of Khmer art history. Along with 2004’s Adoration and Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art , which looked primarily at stone, and 2008’s Khmer Gold: Gifts for the Gods, which was about the precious metal, this new volume offers the most comprehensive study of the subject available.

The exhaustive nature of the book is immediately evident in its sheer size. At over 500 pages, with more than 450 large colour photographs, Latchford and Bunker have spared no detail. This is not a tome one consumes in a single sitting.

It begins before the rise of the Khmer, with the technical roots of Asian bronze-casting as it appears in early kettle drums. The authors take time to explain the processes involved in casting bronze, and how they evolved through the centuries.

By the time the Khmer empire was in full swing, the imagery is almost entirely devotional. It is interesting to see the various influences at play and how they affected the work, from the very simple early statues to the incredibly ornate, variously posed figures seen in later eras.

Also included are several appendixes offering additional information on the science used to study these figures and some of the academia being written about the era. One particularly interesting appendix explains the carbon-dating process used to assess the pieces’ authenticity and shows copies of a few of the carbon-dating results for figures seen in the book.

By it’s very nature, this is the type of book one keeps in a collection, to use as reference material or when looking for clear, striking examples of ancient art. It is an essential volume for anyone interested in Khmer art history, and will make a fine addition to the collection of any art historian, whether they are interested only in Southeast Asia or the entire spectrum of the world’s art history.


Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops