Divine Dwellings: The Architectural Context of Khmer Sculpture

This is the first in a series of three talks on the Medieval arts in Cambodia, which reached its peak under the great Buddhist King Jayavarman VII, one of the greatest builders and patrons of the arts in history. These talks will be followed up by contemporary ballets that are based on the classical art of that period.

Jayavarman VII

This is a wonderful introduction by Helen Jessup describing the evolving forms of Khmer architecture and sculpture from the earliest times up to the period of its greatest builder Jayavarman VII.

It was given as part of the Aspects of Angkor exhibition at the Asian sections of the Smithsonion Institution in Washington in 2010.

There are a number of interesting things she manages to bring out, which I hadn’t properly understood before.

For instance, it appears that the Khmer are one of the peoples we know to have been in place for a very long time, surpassed only by the Chinese and the Egyptians.

There is substantial evidence that women were not only freer in the culture than in many others of the same period, but there were also Queens or Empresses in the budding Khmer Empire, as well as renowned women teachers at its height.

Also the findings of early Buddhist sculpture suggest that Buddhism was well established from the earliest period, and that it probably coexisted quite harmoniously with the dominant Brahminism.

The talk covers the development of architecture from caves to cells to prasat to prang and monumental temple, taking in along the way Phnom Da, the Rolous group, Bakheng and Yasodharapura (Angkor itself), and its development.

It also features some of the most beautiful of the Khmer sculptures covering both Vaishnava, Saivite and Buddhistic forms, like Lokiteshwara and Maitreya.

The talk is very well presented and all in all gives an overview of the development of Khmer culture that would be hard to better.


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Prasat Phnom Chnog




Banteay Srei


Reclining Vishnu


Angkor Wat




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