South & Southeast Asian Art Collection
The Museum's collection of South and Southeast Asian art is considered among the important collections in America, in company with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Freer/Sackler Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
The collection contains 945 objects of the highest quality from the Hindu, Buddhist and Jain religions. Objects range from the 3rd century B.C.E. to the 19th century C.E., from areas covered by modern-day India, Pakistan, Nepal, Tibet, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar and Thailand. The Museum's collection of Indian bronzes contains examples of nearly every major style from the 2nd to the 15th centuries.
Sculpture is the strength of this collection, whether rendered in bronze or stone. Most of these sculptures depict deities, Buddhist figures and attendants associated with Indic religions. The galleries are arranged chronologically, and are introduced by a few examples from the ancient kingdoms of Gandhara, a territory corresponding to large areas of modern-day states of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The collection contains excellent examples of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu sculpture from India, ranging from the 2nd and 3rd centuries through the classic Gupta period, best characterized by a heroic Torso of a Buddha. Of comparably early date (ca. 400 C.E.) is a remarkable bronze depiction of the Standing Buddha, one of a very small group of Gupta-period images in metal that have survived to our own time.
The collection is especially strong in South Indian bronzes, among them such celebrated and unique pieces as the Karaikkal Ammaiyar, a Shaiva Saint and the fascinating Tree of Life.
The Museum also owns a number of lavishly colored Indian miniature paintings of a multitude of subjects, including two folios from the Mughal Emperor Jahangir's Gulshan Album. The painting schools of the Indian Deccan are represented by four examples from an 18th century Ragamala (Garland of Musical Modes) which translate musical melodies and poetry into visual compositions with courtly and romantic subjects.
Indian religious traditions spread throughout South and Southeast Asia. The styles of religious art change to reflect local art-making practices. This is illustrated by comparing sculptures from Java, Thailand and Cambodia. A Standing Buddha, for instance, made in Thailand sometime during the 7th or 8th century C.E., displays evidence of influence by Indian art of the Gupta and post-Gupta periods while also adopting some of the physical characteristics of Mon sculpture of the Dvaravati era.
The development of sculpture in the Khmer Empire is demonstrated by several freestanding figures as well as reliefs dating from the 10th through the 13th centuries. Himalayan art from Nepal and Tibet is represented by gilt copper and bronze sculptures, thankas (hanging scrolls and banners) and other ritual objects.