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September 25, 2017

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Tradition thrives anew in Bangkok with latest 'Arts of the Kingdom'

BANGKOK--The Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall at Dusit Palace — long admired for its architectural blend of Italian Renaissance and neo-classicism, and Siamese craftsmanship — has since 2007 been an active showcase for the kingdom's heritage. That year the queen arranged for a permanent display of delicately embroidered screens, carvings and other remarkable creations, as seen in the exhibition "Arts of the Kingdom."

This year brings "Arts of the Kingdom VI," with nine new masterpieces added. Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn opened the exhibition last Saturday on behalf of the king.

Set out like modern art museums, the show guides visitors — in Thai and English — through the history of superb Siamese craftsmanship and offers a glimpse of the future. That future rests in the capable hands of artisans at the Sirikit Institute, formerly Support — the Foundation for the Promotion of Supplementary Occupations and Related Techniques.

Among the new additions are breathtaking emerald-hued wallpaper and chederlia decorated with beetle wings. Joining portraits of the king and queen on the wall is Thai poetry in Gold Khram Damascene.

And another hall has the Gold Khram Damascene Inlay "Kong" Throne. This small throne is named after the shape of the armrests, which curve like kong — disks — to fit the sitter. Because of its small size and lightness, it can be used as a palanquin in royal processions.

In the past kong thrones were made of intricately carved wood and decorated with lacquer and gold and colored mirror pieces. To accommodate the gold damascene inlay, the new throne on view was made at the Sirikit Institute completely of metal.

The base, customarily a basic rectangle, is a more elaborate 12-cornered redented platform. In place of the traditional garuda and naga motif is a chain of monkeys, corresponding to the queen's birth sign in the Chinese zodiac.

The base tapers upward to the throne platform, which itself has two layers. The bottom shows the singha (lion) and the upper more monkeys as well as Poom Khao Bin rice and other traditional motifs.

The beautiful gold inlay also bears a collage of beetle wings, adding vivid color and dimension. Combined with the gold fretwork and other decorative elements, the Kong Throne is a startling work of art that combines the best of the past and present.

Nearby is a double-sided wood-carved screen depicting the Sangthong and Rojana from King Rama II's play "Inao" on the front and creatures from the Ramakien's mythical Himma-vanta Forest on the reverse. Six meters long, 36 centimeters wide and 5.2 meters high, it was a three-year labor of love for 79 carvers.

Sangthong and Rojana and forest characters Kinnorn and Kinnaree are sculpted in teak, life size, and decorated with jewel-like beetle wings.

The triple-spire Busabok Throne is based on the one seen in Lord Brahma's heavenly abode, as portrayed on the pediment of the Buddhai Sawan Throne Hall. A busabok is a small, open-sided pavilion, a repository for sacred objects such as Buddha images or Tipitaka scriptures. Nearly 200 artisans spent almost two years on this masterpiece.

Garnering support for the queen's efforts to preserve the art of making gold and silver nielloware — a Siamese speciality since the Ayutthaya Period — the exhibition has a Gold Niello Screen. It depicts three episodes from the Ramakien — "Ravana in His Garden," "Chasing the Deer and Sita's Abduction," and "Hunt of the Horse Upakarn."

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