look back in Angkor

Hard to imagine what Angkor looked like in its heyday: bronzes like this lovely lady gleaming among the stone reliefs and statuary, a lake with a giant bronze Vishnu floating as in the cosmic ocean, and Buddhas and bodhisattvas standing in niches, surrounded by oil lamps blazing, platters brimming with offerings…  I have always thought of Angkor in terms of stone — mostly because that’s what one sees when walking through the ruins.  Not that I have ever been, mind you.  My closest encounter is through the wall size prints of photos my father took when he traveled around the world on freighter ships.  It was 1936.  He had a Brownie box camera.  And the pictures he brought back show tree roots slithering among and over the stones of temples and palaces like so many snakes.   I doubt my father ever looked at the ruins and imagined them studded with bronzes with the sheen of gold.  I know I didn’t looking at his photographs.  Yet that is what Zhou Daguan, a Chinese envoy who spent a year at the court in Angkor in 1268, saw.   Some of the bronzes are on view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and I found myself wishing I could have seen the complex through the eyes of Zhou Daguan.   But then I wondered:  would I find all that brassy glitter tacky? I am awfully fond of the green patina of age…

(there are great  images on the site of the Wall Street Journal linked to my review of the show)

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