buddhist art
Khmer and Thai Lopburi / Cambodia


The Khmer Empire was the dominating power in mainland South East Asia from the 10th to the 13th century. Unlike in Thailand and Laos, the Khmer sculptors where heavily influenced not only by the Indian Buddhist styles but also by Hinduism, so the Hindu deities play an important role for Khmer sculptors as well. The most popular ones are Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma with their respective consorts Uma, Laksami and Suratshvadi. Vishnu, Shiva and Uma and Laksami are often found in Khmer sculptures as well as Avalokiteshvara und Prajnaparamitr, the goddess of wisdom. During the pre Angkorian time (6th until 10th century) they are much more common than Buddha images.

During the pre Angkorian time, most sculptors used stone; bronze is rare, except for the Kampong Phra / Prakon Chai period in the 8th century, where beautiful bronze statues were created. Bronze became more popular from the Baphuon period onwards (11th century), at the same time when Buddha images also became more popular than in the earlier periods.

During the golden centuries of the Khmer empire from the 10th to the 13th century it ruled over most of today's Thailand and Laos. The Buddha images produced in the parts of the Khmer empire in today's Thailand resemble the Khmer style almost to the point of being impossible to distinguish. One of the main cities of the time was Lopburi, therefore images created in Central Thailand during this period are called Lopburi style. However, there are fewer Hindu deities than in Angkor. With the fading of the Khmer influence the Lopburi style continued its independent development and let to the U Thong (early Ayutthaya) style.

After the 13th century, the political influence of Angkor deteriorated up to a point where the magnificent temples of Angkor and Bayon lay completely forgotten in the jungle. Together with the Empire, the craftmanship declined as well. Almost as if the whole civilization was lost after the 14th century. Post Angkor Cambodia produced few mostly unspectacular Buddha images and only in the 19th century some interesting pieces can be found again.

The Khmer sculptures are divided into the following styles and periods:

Panom Da, 6/7th century, Vishnu is by far the dominating image

Sombor Prei Kuk, 7th century

Prei Kmeng, 7th century

Angkor Buri, 7th century

Kampong Phra, 8th century, also known as Prakon Chai style in Thailand

Kulen, early 9th century

Phreah Koh, late 9th century

Bakhaeng, early 10th century, with its massive larger than life stone statues of Vishnu

Koh Ker / Pre Rup, mid 10th century

Bantay Seri, late 10th century, with an especially well preserved temple complex

Baphuon, 11th century. The lower garment on the Hindu deities is high on the hips but low at the navel, the hair is braided and woven into a cone on top of the head and the chin has a cleft. Buddha images protected by 7 headed naga become popular.

Angkor Wat, 12th century. Buddha images protected by 7 headed naga and standing with small hanging decorations on belt and necklace are typical for Angkor Wat style.

Bayon, late 12th and 13th century. Buddha images often have closed eyes and smiling lips, 7 headed naga becomes narrower than and not as round as before. Bronze sculptures of Buddhist trinities become popular (Buddha sheltered by 7 headed naga in the middle, Avalokitesvara on the right and Prajnaparamitr on the left.)
Stone sculptures of female deities have the typical floral design on the lower garment.

Post Bayon / Lopburi style, 14th century, Thai Lopburi style and post Bayon Khmer style take different developments. The Thai images are the transition pieces to Ayutthaya (U thong) style.

All these periods have their specific style of (esp. lower) garments and hairdress/crown.

All Khmer and Lopburi pieces are well established collectors items in the international art market. Stone statues are often damaged (torsos only); prices increase dramatically if head or even arms are still there. Bronze statues are equally popular and prices depend on the condition and patina (green patina is especially popular). Another important factor for the quality of both stone and bronze pieces is the distinction between royal artists and provincial pieces. The quality of craftsmanship is visibly higher in the big temples of Angkor Wat or Bayon. But also the provincial towns and temples produced Buddha images and sculptures of deities. Their quality is lower, their look more tribal.
The prices for later Cambodian pieces are on the same level as Thai pieces of comparable quality. High quality later Cambodian pieces are hard to find. 

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