Stylistics of Early Khmer Art ( In Two Volumes)
Texts and photo from Exotic India
From The Jacket
Mireille Benisti had made the study of stylistics of early Khmer and Indian art her life work. The present volume contains translations of Benisti’s major publications dealing with Khmer art. The main article is a study of the relations between early Khmer and Indian art, i.e. 7th and 8th centuries, the crucial period of the introduction of Indian religion of the first and other components of Indian culture in the first well-organized kingdom of Khmer land. She has referred to the process of transfer of concepts and motifs; movable objects, such as statues, caskets, rituals objects, such as statues, caskets, rituals objects, etc., transported from India to Khmer land and their decoration which could have inspired local artists.
Madame Benisti held that art is a living entity and that it is always in a state of transformation. In this context, she has pointed out links and transitions between different styles, moments of evolution in which a particular style abandoned some characters and adopted the primitive aspects of new characters of a later style. Several articles contained in this volume bring to light moments of transition from one style to another. She has given precise definitions and analysis of decorative motifs the bezelband, the makara, the voluted leaf, the beaded garland, pendant, etc. her systematic survey of styles, along with detailed study of iconography, thus provides a solid foundation for a comprehensive study of Khmer art.
The works of Mireille Benisti are exemplary from the point of view of refinement of methods. She will remain a prominent figure among the French Indologists of the late 20th century, who displayed a perception into the stylistics and iconography of both Indian and Khmer art.
Mireille Benisti (1909-1993) was a French such as Philippe Stern and Paul Mus who marked the first half of the twentieth century the first by his systematic method of style analysis in the history of art, the second by his deep insights in the history of Buddhism and in the conceptions of religious monuments such as the stupa. In the same line, she had been the leading researcher and author I the second half of twentieth century in the fields of Buddhist art of India and the expansion of Indian art in Cambodia. Her contribution is basically in the domain of stylistics and extends also to iconography as well as to textual source in Sanskrit.
she had authored major books like Relations Between the First Khmer Art and Indian Art; Contribution to the Study of the Indian Buddhist Stupa : The Minor Stupas of Bodh-Gaya and Ratnagiri. IGNCA has also published her book entitled Stylistics of Buddhist Art in India, in 2 vol. In 2003. She had published a number of articles, on the stupa, on decorative motifs in Buddhist and Hindu art of India and Cambodia, on iconography in both areas, etc., leaving a rich harvest of facts, a model of method and a lot of innovative ideas.
This work on early Khmer art the reveals the second facet of Mireille Benisti’s expertise in the field of history of art. The first facet has already been displayed by the publication in English of a volume of her writing about Buddhist art in India. That volume contains a presentation of Mireile Benisti’s career and works, with her complete bibliography.
Her contribution to the study of Khmer art is in the line her studies on Buddhist art. It concerns iconography and stylistics is a well-known tern in history of literature and poetics. It refers basically to the study of literary styles. Its application to plastic arts is not so well-known. But the concept of styles has equal relevancy to architecture, sculpture, painting etc. The difficulty is that criteria adapted to the different and description of a style in visual material are not as readily apparent to the observer, as in linguistics material. On which features of a work of art can we base the characterisations of a style? Let us recall here that this line of research has so far retained the attention of only a small group of historians of art, mostly from France. The method was initiated by G. Jouveau-Dubreuil, whose pioneering presentation of south Indian monuments in 1914 contains a clear exposition of a method of exposition of motifs with a view to establish a relative chronology. He demonstrated that there are motifs which are recurrent from one monuments to another in a particular group, in a particular region and that it may be also the characteristic of a particular period. The same motifs are absent, giving place for new creations, or subjected to considerable, definite transformation in monuments forming another group, and can be the characteristic of another period. There are two types of motifs, some architectonic, such as figured edifices, corbels etc., some purely decorative, such as creepers, jewellery designs etc., as relevant to chronological classification. Comparison with history and epigraphical data, can help to situate the relative chronology of motifs in absolute chronology. Thus Jouveau-Dubreuil defined several styles for temples for temples of south Indian, from Pallava and Calukya up to Nayak period.
This line of research was more systematically pursued by Philippe Stern who, with considerable success, applied it to some Indian monuments, such as Amaravati and Ajanta, and to monuments of Cambodia. His example was followed by a group of historians of art who concentrated their efforts on Khmer art. In 1940 G. de Coral Remusat brought out a synthesis of all stylistics research, which remains in its broad lines the basis of the style classification of Khmer monuments. Owing to the limited size of the Khmer kingdom. Even thought the Khmer people had an extraordinarily creative artistic faculty, the exhaustive inventory and examination of the whole of the observable monuments can be conducted easily. It could be done also up to the most detailed level of observation. The result is that we have now a fairly precise knowledge of the evolution of styles, on the basis of selected motifs which have a clear proof of chronological value, in the shortest possible spans of time, around fifty years. Each style is conventionally called from an eponymous monument, that monument which displays clearly the main characteristics, for example Sambor style, Bayon syle etc.
The same cannot be told of history of Indian art. An exhaustive approach of all monuments on the vast territory of the subcontinent by one historian of art is not possible. An overall view, an overall style classification are still a dream, in spite of considerable progress in the collection and examination of data. Moreover, the same degree of accuracy has not so far be reached. The century, or even a longer period is the unit of time for a style. The historian of art does not have at his disposal a precise catalogue of motifs relevant for stylistics characterization. The case of Khmer art history appears as a model. It may be rewarding to do a similar attempt with a method, similar or adapted to different contexts, in the case of diverse regions of Indian art. The religious relationship between both countries, their common artistic inspirations, in spite of their deep original characters, invite to study them with a similar approach.
The present volume contains translations of Mireille Benisti major publications dealing with Khmer art, i.e. 7th and 8th centuries, the crucial period of the introduction of Indian religion and other components of Indian culture in the first well-organized kingdom of Khmer land. Considering numerous precise cases of relationship between Khmer and Indian motifs in that period, as well as the original rendering of Khmer artists, considering that no Khmer monument is a copy of an Indian monument, that it is a Khmer creation with an Indian source behind, in the absence of any document attesting the presence of Indian architects in Cambodia, nor of a visit of India by Khmer artists, Mireille Benisti proposed an hypothesis on the process of transfer of concepts and motifs: movable objects, such as statues, caskets, ritual objects etc. were transported from India to Khmer land and their decoration could have inspired local artists. In fact, Mireille Benisti’s study is based mainly on material from immovable sources, temples etc. But she had at her disposal only a small number of movable objects found in excavations in both countries, and her field of investigation is only the early period of two centuries. Thus her hypothesis has to be put to the test of further exploration in more material. Her method of investigation has also to be extended to later periods. Contacts between Indian and south-east Asian countries have taken place at all times, as shown by M. Benisti herself, when she casually presents the exportation of the iconological theme of the Tamil saint, Karaikkalammayar, playing tala at the feet of Natesa to Khmer temples of 10th and 11th centuries. The approach thus initiated by her unveils an open field of future research.
Her work appears especially illustrative of the methods of stylistics in plastic arts, by the cats that she has directed her attention on several areas which had not been seriously studies before. We refer to the special care with which she has observed links and transitions between different styles, moments of evolution in which a style abandons some characters, adopts the primitive aspect of new characters of a later style. Art is a living entity. Like the live being, it is always in a state of transformation. Art some moments it appears to us that it has reached an apex, a harmonious assemblage of characters giving a sense of perfection. But that does not last long. To one and same generation of artists may appear unchanging. But on the span of two generations, evolution naturally takes place. The evolutive process is uninterrupted. Styles may be defined by illustrative eponymous sites. There may be an impression of complete estrangement between two eponymous monuments, each representing an apex. Such estrangement is illusory. Other monuments, other objects of art share the style, each with more or less distance, each placing itself near the apex, or at a distance, in a time of decline or of a new rise of forms. History of art sheds light on such evolution. Several articles contained in this volume bring to light moments of transition from a style to another, the borders of Prei Kmeng and Kompong Preah styles, the situation of some monuments which take their place at the end of Sambor style, excentric lintels etc. the refinement of the analysis of a syle depends on the selection of criteria. In the following studies the reader will find precise definitions of decorative motifs, whose individual characters are clear-cut and make them fit for analysis, the bezel band, the makara, the voluted leaf, the beaded garland and pendant etc. finally we have to mention a few articles dealing with objects often forgotten in researchers. Mireille Benisti has surveyed objects, lintels, broken pieces, lying on the ground in abandoned sites, generally neglected, because they have been separated from the monument to which they originally belonged and of which they are sometimes the only remnant. It is a surprise to see a special study of pedestals of statues or lingas, which in India are generally left plain, but to which Khmer artists have brought a profuse décor. A damaged vestige, a small decorative motif has its revealing value.
The works of Mireille Benisti are exemplary, from the point of view of refinement of methods. She has made stylistics of early Khmer and Indian art her life work. All her researchers and site explorations were conducted, over some thirty years, from the fifties to the seventies. All her publications were in French. Now, it is obvious that Indian and international research on Indian art is fast progressing and that the results appear almost exclusively in English. The works of Mireille Benisti have a due place in the present current.
Mrs. Fribourg has generously patronized the undertaking of the translation of Mireille Benisti’s works on Khmer art, like the previous volume of her works on Buddhist art. We acknowledge her gesture as a precious contribution to the memory of her sister, Mireille Benisti, and also to the development of a promising field of research. Mrs. K. Thanikaimony has done the English translation, a painstaking task, considering the technical nature of the subject. As in the previous volume of translations, all the photographs reproduced in this volume are those published with the original text by Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient and Arts Asiatiques. The photographic credit published in the original has been reprduced here. Most of the photographs were taken by Mireille Benisti herself and her collection is at present preserved by Ecole francaise d’Extreme-Orient. We extend our thanks to the Director of this French institution for authorizing the translation and publication by its Indian counterpart. We take pleasure in expressing our gratitude to Prof. N. R. Shetty, Member Secretary, for his readiness to accept this work in the prestigious series of Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts and Dr. Lalit Gujral for his zeal in directing the publication.
Undisputed and unchallenged is the influence from India, Indians and Indian culture on South-East Asian countries especially during the early centuries A.D., on societies and State, on the customs, religious, juridic, economic and technical life, etc. However, much of these influences lack precisions, in both contexture and their transmission, because of the paucity of documents.
We wish to restrict ourselves to a limited sector limited in space: Tchen-la which has just begun to dominate Fou-nan; in time: roughly the 7th century; materially: plastic expression, especially decorative, – to try and explore it systematically in order to make a detailed study of the information that documents can provide concerning Indian influence. We are thus particularly interesting period: the beginning (as far as we can speak about a true beginning) of what would become the Khmer empire, Khmer civilisation, Khmer art, and we have at our disposal a particularly rich source of documents: monumental and sculptural vestiges, especially those in the Sambor Prei Kuk site.
Table of Plates xi
I. Relations Between Early Khmer and Indian Art 1
Simple motifs 24
The kudu 24
The makara 29
The monster face 38
The hamsa frieze 46
The leaf of abundance 52
The scroll 55
The frieze of jutting leaves 60
The volute-pendant leaf 62
The garland 66
The baluster frieze 76
The check pattern 79
The floral trellis 82
The bezel band 87
The band with alternate lozenge and round themes 91
Complex motifs 99
The lintel 100
The colonnette 115
The edifice representation 121
Associated motifs 135
Absences of motifs 140
General considerations 146
Cited works 176
II. Research on Early Khmer Art 183
1. Thala Borivat lintels 183
2. “The bezel band”, chronological criterion 196
3. On the borders of Prei Kmeng and Komopong Preah style 209
4. Decorated pedestals 235
5. The monster-face 256
6. Unpublished and unknown lintels 272
7. The problem of Sambor S. 1 303
III. Notes on Iconography 325
1. Two nautical scenes 325
2. An offering scenes 329
3. On a lintel of Sambor Prei Kuk 333
4. Concerning a lintel from Vat Baset 339
5. Krsna and Kesin 343
6. The Buddhist lintel in Prasat Crap 349
7. Karaikkalammaiyar 356
8. Vat Preah Theat lintel 359
9. Yeai Pu pediment 365
10. First representations of Sri Laksmi 370
11. Ba Kan slab sculpted on both sides 376