The Suzanne S. Roberts Fund for Asian Artexpand_more 2019.75
The vivid scenes hammered into the surface of this large brass dish commemorate the epic fall of the Kingdom of Kandy (1592–1815), the last independent state in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) to succumb to British Crown rule. The design echoes that of Kandyan mural painting, with events staged in a series of illustrated panels, accompanied by brief descriptions incised in the local language (Sinhalese). Here, the central scene depicts Kandy’s controversial king, Sri Vikrama Raja Simha, enthroned in his palace in full regalia, demanding retribution for the betrayal of his chief minister, Ehelepola, who had defected to the British. On the level below, the king forces the minister’s wife to murder her child in a rice pounder, and below that she is drowned in a lake. On the inner rim, rows of British Calvary led by Sir Robert Browning swiftly defeat Vikrama Raja Sinha’s army.
Created by Kandyan craftsmen, this dish was likely commissioned by and presented to a British official to celebrate a long-sought triumph. The choice of imagery typifies a prevailing tendency of British Crown rule: to further legitimize its claim by publicizing the tyrannical behaviors of so-called “oriental” kings.
This dish is rare, historically important, and dynamically executed. The subject matter directly addresses many of the issues encyclopedic museums are facing today, namely confronting colonial legacies in the face of remarkable beauty. Its legibility provides our educators and audiences an object that can withstand sustained, thought-provoking discussion and debate.
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