Travel to Thailand: Bangkok's Lacquer Pavilion
Just east of the intersection of Thanon Ayutthaya and Phaya Thai is the Suan Pakkard palace, on whose grounds Prince Chumbhot (1904-59) put the small building known as the Lacquer Pavilion. Open to the public, the building seems to have been begun in the late 17th century as two buildings. Shortly thereafter, during a Burmese invasion, the buildings were moved north a few miles to a monastery at Ban Kling, where they slowly deteriorated until 1930, when they were torn down and combined into a single structure comprising an interior room and an enclosed surrounding hallway: a box inside a box. The interior walls of each box were covered with paintings, chiefly the life of the Buddha, but they were almost illegible when Prince Chumbhot acquired them. During the 1950s they were painstakingly renewed. The process was a painstaking one. It began with several coats of black lacquer. Upon this surface, a drawing was traced. The rest of the panel was covered with a soft yellow paint. The entire surface was then covered with gold leaf. The next day, the panel was washed to remove the gold leaf atop the soft yellow paint; the only gold remaining was the gold atop the traced pattern.
The Lacquer Pavilion in its garden setting, surrounded by central Bangkok. The "box in a box" structure is evident from the roof.
A close-up of one panel of the exterior wall; on the inside, straddling the window, is a picture of the Buddha's last hours. All told, there are six panels on the inner box and seven on the outer. Although they tell a story, the panels are out of order and have been so since they were reassembled into a single building.
This is the chronological first panel, now in the inner room. The complexity of the work is more apparent than the fact that the picture shows the battle against the demon Mara, when the Buddha achieved enlightenment. Like Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" with clocks, this picture has the anachronism of European soldiers in Mara's army. During the Ayathaya period, such imagery was widespread.
Here, judging from his clothing, a Dutchman.
Enlightened, the Buddha floats overhead, while fire-worshippers are forced into a boat by floods. They soon convert to Buddhism.
Carts cross a river. They illustrate a miracle: the Buddha in old age asks his disciple Ananda to fetch water from a stream that these carts have muddied. The water becomes crystal clear.
The King and Queen of Malla, where the Buddha spends his final hours.
From the same panel, cooks prepare the Buddha's last meal.
Peeking out a window.
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