SOAS University of London

Department of the History of Art and Archaeology, School of Arts

Model Agency: The Practice of Copying Buddha Images in Thai Art History

Angela Chiu, PhD student, Art & Archaeology Department, SOAS

Date: 16 November 2011Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 16 November 2011Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B111

Type of Event: Seminar

Works of scholarship on the art of Thailand typically depict the historical development of Thai art as a series of “influences” of iconographies and styles from one place or people to another.  Although these analyses rest on the assumption that copying was constantly and widely practiced in all times and places, seldom do these works indicate much contemplation or scrutiny of the reasoning, methodology and process undertaken by people of the past which led them to select particular objects, as opposed to others, as the preferred models to be copied.  Of course, specific instances of copying are often difficult to study because of the limited availability of data for many places and time periods, especially the earlier ones.  Still, because the operation of copying as an institutional and cultural process is an essential assumption upon which the academic enterprise of Thai art history is borne, greater attention to it should be paid.

This paper will consider the historical copying of Buddha images, by taking a new look at evidence from accounts about Buddha images found in inscriptions and manuscripts from northern Thailand, including unpublished monastic chronicles from the collection of the École française d’Extrême-Orient - Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre in Bangkok.  Descriptions, narratives and themes of the texts present the tangible and intangible features of Buddha images valued by devotees, indicating the ways of thinking of people of the past which underlay the selection of models for copying.  As we will see, the copying of Buddha images has involved both a process of technical craft as well as a process of social and economic interaction among often competing agencies of persons and institutions.  This draws attention to individualized and commodity-like characteristics of Buddha images and casts a new light on the role of iconography and style in the historical production of Thai Buddha images.  

Organiser: Crispin Branfoot

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