Jayavarman VII and the Art of the Bayon
Under the last great sovereign of Angkor, Jayavarman VII (r. 1181-1218?), the territory and influence of the Khmer empire reached its zenith. In 1177, Champa (a kingdom in central Vietnam) had invaded Angkor and occupied the capital. Jayavarman drove the Chams from Cambodia in 1181, ascended the throne, conquered Champa, and extracted tribute from much of Thailand and Laos. He rebuilt the capital, creating the royal city of Angkor Thom. A devout Buddhist, he proclaimed Buddhism the state religion and ordered the construction of more temples than any of his predecessors, including the monastic complexes of Preah Khan and Ta Prohm. The state temple of the Bayon, his grandest creation, was built at the very heart of Angkor Thom and has given its name to the artistic style of the age.
Sculpture in the Bayon style is marked by intense spirituality. The serene, contemplative expressions of the figures reflect the humility and compassion associated with Buddhism, and perhaps even with Jayavarman VII himself. His concern for his people led to the construction of 102 hospitals, pilgrims' rest houses, bridges, and other public works. Sculpture of the time also became more individualized, as in the two heads thought to be portraits of Jayavarman VII and the possible portrait of his deceased wife, Queen Jayarajadevi in the guise of the Buddhist deity Tara.
Copyright © 2008 National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC