When, in 1767, Burmese invaders overthrew King Thinang Suriyamarin, ruler of Thailand’s Ayutthaya kingdom (known then to foreigners as Siam), the conquerors—as conquerors are wont to do—destroyed many of the artifacts that had been created during the kingdom’s four centuries in power. The most compelling of those items that survived comprise The Kingdom of Siam: The Art of Central Thailand, 1350–1800, an exhibit that opened in July and continues through October 16 at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) in Salem, Mass.
Buddhism, the predominant religion of Ayutthaya, is a recurrent theme among many of the 80 objects. This gold alloy pediment (above), which dates to 1424, once served as a backdrop for a Buddha statue. And this 5-foot-tall gilded wood manuscript cabinet (left), made between 1650 and 1750, testifies to how widely the kingdom’s traders roamed. Some believe that the man on the left is King Louis XIV because Narai, the 17th-century Siamese king for whom the cabinet was probably built, sent emissaries to that French king’s court. The man on the right is an Indian or a Persian monarch. Another manuscript chest (bottom right), which was finished sometime between 1650 and 1700, illustrates the Ayutthayan style of art: energetic and averse to blank space. Susan Bean, PEM curator of South Asian and Korean art, says dryly, “They really liked to fully decorate.”
Peabody Essex Museum,