Indonesian Art

Indonesian Architecture

Indonesian architecture has been shaped by interaction between indigenous customs and foreign influences, including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam.

Learning Objectives

Summarize the developments of the golden age of Indonesian architecture

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Indonesia has a particularly rich tradition of Hindu–Buddhist sculpture and architecture, and it was strongly influenced by India from the 1st century CE onward.
  • Buddhist art in Indonesia reached its golden era under the Sailendra dynasty of the Sri Vijaya Empire between the 8th and 13th centuries.
  • Sculpture flourished between the 8th and 10th centuries AD in Java and Bali, taking the form of free-standing statues or relief sculptures incorporated into temples. They are characterized by their delicacy and serenity of expression.
  • Indonesian art enjoyed another golden age under the Majapahit Empire (1293–1500), during which a large number of Hindu–Buddhist brick temples were built, characterized by tall, slender-roofed red brick gates and a strong geometrical quality.
  • By the 15th century, Islam had become the dominant religion in Indonesia, and local mosques reflected both indigenous and Islamic influences. They lacked the Islamic dome and had tall timber -tiered roofs similar to the pagodas of Balinese Hindu temples.

Key Terms

  • animism: A belief that spirits inhabit some or all classes of natural objects or phenomena.
  • mandala: Any ritualistic geometric design, symbolic of the universe, used as an aid to meditation, particularly in Hinduism and Buddhism.
  • syncretism: The reconciliation or fusion of different systems or beliefs (or the attempt at such fusion).
  • candi: Hindu and Buddhist temples and sanctuaries of Indonesia, mostly built during the 8th to 15th centuries; however, ancient non-religious structures such as gates, urban ruins, and bathing places are often also called by this name.

Overview: Indonesia

The culture and art of Indonesia has been shaped by interaction between local indigenous customs and multiple foreign influences. Situated on the ancient maritime trading routes between the Near East and the Far East, Indonesia was exposed to a multitude of foreign cultural practices and religions, including Hinduism , Buddhism , and Islam. The result is a complex fusion of many different customs, expressed in Indian art forms.

Architecture in Indonesia before 1200 CE

The Sri Vijaya Empire

Indonesia has a particularly rich tradition of Hindu–Buddhist sculpture and architecture, which was strongly influenced by India from the 1st century CE onward. The earliest Buddhist structures in Indonesia to survive to the present day are the 4th century Batujaya plastered brick stupas in West Java. However, Buddhist art reached its golden era under the Sailendra dynasty of the Sri Vijaya Empire. The islands of Sumatra and Java in western Indonesia were the seat of the Sri Vijaya Empire (8th–13th centuries), which practiced Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism and were a major political and cultural influence in the Southeast Asian peninsula.

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Bronze Maitreya statue, South Sumatra, Indonesia, c. 9th–10th century.: This bronze Bodhisattva Maitreya is an example of Sri Vijayan sculpture. The statue’s distinctive crown incorporates a stupa in its design.

Stone and bronze sculpture flourished between the 8th and 10th century CE under the Sailendra dynasty in Java and Bali. These sculptures were either free-standing statues or relief sculptures and friezes incorporated into temples; they are characterized by their delicacy and serenity of expression.

Borobudur

The most outstanding example of this classical Hindu–Buddhist sculpture in Indonesia is found in the temple of Borobudur in central Java. Built in the 8th century, Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world and is supposed to represent a map of the Buddhist cosmos; it is a masterful combination of didactic narrative sculptures, spiritual symbolism , monumental design, and meditative serenity. The entire structure resembles a stupa, and when seen from above, looks like a mandala , a concentric diagram with spiritual significance in Buddhism. As part of its structure, it has 504 statues of the Buddha and 2,672 relief panels depicting the life of the Buddha. As a visitor ascends through the eight levels of the temple, the story unfolds from beginning to end. The last three levels simply contain stupas and statues of the Buddha.

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Borobudur’s main stupa, Java, Indonesia.: This image shows the main Stupa crowning the Borobudur, built in the 8th century by the Sailendra dynasty. The uppermost terrace has rows of bell-shaped stupas and Buddha images. The main stupa itself is empty, symbolizing perfect enlightenment.

Prambanan

Near Borobudur is the 9th century temple complex of Prambanan, one of the oldest and largest Hindu temples in Southeast Asia. The complex consists of eight main shrines, surrounded by 224 smaller ones. The Indian influence on the building is unmistakable, not only in the architectural style but also in the stone reliefs featuring scenes from the Hindu epic Ramayana, which adorn the outer walls of the main temples.

Architecture in Indonesia after 1200 CE

The Majapahit Empire

The decline of the Sri Vijaya Empire in the 11th century was accompanied by a corresponding decline in Buddhism and a shift of power to Eastern Java. The Majapahit Empire was established in 1293 and lasted until around 1500. The Majapahit rulers practiced a mix of Hinduism, Buddhism, and animism , and the religious architecture reflects this synthesis. Indonesian art enjoyed a golden age under Majapahit rule, and an enormous number of Hindu–Buddhist temples, or candi , were built during this period. The building material of choice was brick and mortar of vine sap and palm sugar. Majapahit architecture is characterized by tall and slender roofed red brick gates, a strong geometrical quality, and a sense of verticality, achieved through numerous horizontal lines . Majapahit influence can still be seen to the present day in Hindu temples in Bali.

Introduction of Islam

By the 15th century, Islam had become the dominant religion in Java and Sumatra, Indonesia’s most populous islands. Islamic cultural and artistic influences were absorbed and reinterpreted in the local landscape, resulting in mosques that reflected both Indonesian and Islamic background, with additional influences from Hindu, Buddhist, and Chinese architecture. Indonesian mosques lacked the ubiquitous Islamic dome until the 19th century, and they had tall timber tiered roofs similar to the pagodas of Balinese Hindu temples.

Indonesian Painting

Indonesian painting has been shaped by a myriad of cultural influences, including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and colonial forces.

Learning Objectives

Examine the characteristics of Indonesian painting during its golden age

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Indonesian art has been shaped by interaction between indigenous customs and foreign influences, including Hinduism , Buddhism , and Islam .
  • Indonesian painting before the 19th century was mostly restricted to the decorative arts, considered to be a religious and spiritual activity.
  • Notable artwork includes the mural paintings on the long houses of the Kenyah people of Borneo , which are based on endemic natural motifs such as ferns and hornbills.
  • A tradition of Balinese painting uses narrative imagery to depict scenes from Balinese legends and religious scripts; these paintings can usually found in Indonesian palm-leaf manuscripts and on the ceilings of Balinese temples.
  • Under the influence of the Dutch colonial power, a trend toward Western- style painting emerged in the 19th century.
  • The most famous indigenous 19th century Indonesian painter is Raden Saleh (1807–1877), who was the first indigenous artist to study in Europe and was heavily influenced by Romanticism .

Key Terms

  • Borneo: The third-largest island in the world and the largest island in Asia.
  • Raden Saleh: A pioneering Indonesian Romantic painter of Arab-Javanese ethnicity; he was considered to be the first “modern” artist from Indonesia (then Dutch East Indies), and his paintings corresponded with 19th century romanticism, which was popular in Europe at the time.

Overview: Art in Indonesia

The art and culture of Indonesia have been shaped by interactions between original indigenous customs and multiple foreign influences. Indonesia is centrally located along ancient trading routes between the Far East, South Asia, and the Middle East, resulting in art and paintings that are strongly influenced by a multitude of religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism , Islam, and Christianity.

Indonesian Painting Before the 19th Century

Indonesian painting before the 19th century was mostly restricted to the decorative arts, considered to be a religious and spiritual activity. Artists’ names were often anonymous, as the individual human creator was seen as far less important than his creation to honor the deities or spirits. Notable artwork includes the mural paintings on the long houses of the Kenyah people of Borneo, which are based on endemic natural motifs such as ferns and hornbills. Other traditional art includes the geometric wood carvings of the Toraja people of South Sulawesi.

This mural painting is made up of organic swirling designs in white, greenish gold, red, and black.

Kenyah mural paintings: Kenyah mural painting in Long Nawang, East Kalimantan.

There is a tradition of Balinese painting that uses narrative imagery to depict scenes from Balinese legends and religious scripts. These classical paintings can usually be found in Indonesian lontar or palm-leaf manuscripts and on the ceilings of Balinese temples.

Indonesian Painting After the 19th Century

Under the influence of the Dutch colonial power, a trend toward Western style painting emerged in the 19th century. In the Netherlands, the term “Indonesian Painting” is often applied to the paintings produced by Dutch or other foreign artists who lived and worked in the former Netherlands-Indies. The most famous indigenous 19th century Indonesian painter is Raden Saleh (1807–1877), who was also the first indigenous artist to study in Europe. His art is heavily influenced by Romanticism.

Prince Diponegoro and Lieutenant General Hendrik Merkus de Kock stand in front of a colonial mansion. Surrounding them are officers. Javanese soldiers kneel on the ground before them.

The Arrest of Pangeran Diponegoro by Raden Saleh: Raden Saleh was perhaps the most famous indigenous 19th century Indonesian painter, and his work is heavily influenced by Romanticism and his training in Europe.

The 1920s to 1940s was a time of growing nationalism in Indonesia. The previous period of romanticism was not seen as a purely Indonesian movement and began to wane, and painters began to turn to the natural world for inspiration. Some examples of Indonesian painters during this period are the Balinese Ida Bagus Made and the realist Basuki Abdullah. The Indonesian Painters Association (or PERSAGI, 1938–1942) was formed during this period and established a contemporary art philosophy that saw art as a reflection of the artist’s individual views, as well as an expression of national cultural thoughts. During the 1960s, new elements were added when abstract expressionism and Islamic art began to be absorbed by the art community. The national identity of Indonesia was stressed by painters through the use of a realistic, documentary style.