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Lecture | Friends of the Kern Institute lecture

Technical research on bronze images from Indonesia’

Thursday 1 March 2018
University Library
Witte Singel 27
2311 BG Leiden
Heinsiuszaal (2nd floor)

Technical research on bronze images from Indonesia


Bronze statues of Buddhist and Hindu divinities were produced in the Indonesian archipelago between the 7th and 11th centuries. As portable objects they provide direct religious, artistic, and technical information on multiple intercultural interactions between the Indonesian islands and other regions in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea.

They constitute an invaluable source of information for understanding cultural transfers, and especially the nature as well as directions of artisanal and religious exchange within the ‘Indianized’ world. To date, publications on bronze statuary from Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, and Sulawesi refer mainly to iconography, while stylistic studies are still in their infancy. As far as bronze working techniques are concerned, technological studies are scarce and restricted to isolated items. They do not address the aforementioned issue of technical exchange. To fill the gaps in our knowledge of Indonesian bronze casting technologies, technical examinations and analyses have recently been carried out on 85 Indonesian bronze statues in the collections of the Musée National des Arts Asiatiques – Guimet, Paris and the Museum Volkenkunde, Leiden.

A wide range of methods, including X-ray / neutron radiography and tomography, bulk and surface metal analyses (ICP-AES and XRF), as well as digital microscopy, have allowed us to determine alloy compositions, casting processes and decorative techniques. Additionally, a group of eight statues differs from the rest of the corpus in that a cavity was made into the wax model with the specific function of inserting a deposit of precious objects (e.g. coins, stone beads, folded metal sheets with sacred formulae) in order to consecrate these Buddhist religious images after casting. The preservation of these deposits, sealed by a lead-tin alloy within the statues, is unique in Southeast Asian bronze statuary.

Marijke Klokke

After graduating in Indology, Marijke Klokke obtained her PhD in Indonesian studies in 1990. She was assistant curator in the Oriental Department of Leiden University Library and curator at the Leiden Museum of Ethnology. She has been teaching at Leiden University since 1991, and since 2010 as professor by special appointment of South and Southeast Asian art and material culture. She has initiated the research on Indonesian bronzes and has curated a small exhibition on this subject in Museum Volkenkunde that runs till June 2019.


Mathilde Mechling

Mathilde Mechling is currently completing a joint PhD degree at Leiden University and Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3 on Indonesian bronze statuary under the supervision of Marijke Klokke and Vincent Lefèvre. She obtained a BA in archaeology and art history from Ecole du Louvre, Paris (2011) with a specialization in South and Southeast Asian art, as well as a BA in Sanskrit from Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3 (2014). She started focusing on Indonesian studies during her ResMA as an Erasmus student at Leiden University (2013). 


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