In this seminar, the sixth in the Arts in Southeast Asia Seminar series, Prof Jérôme Samuel, co-director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CASE) and co-editor of French scientific Review Archipel, delivered a seminar on “Representations of the Ottomans in Javanese reverse glass painting”.
REGIONAL SOCIAL AND CULTURAL STUDIES PROGRAMME – ARTS IN SOUTHEAST ASIA SEMINAR SERIES
Representations of the Ottomans in Javanese Reverse Glass Painting
Dr Helene Njoto, ISEAS Visiting Fellow, introducing Professor Jérôme Samuel to the participants (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)
Friday, 4 November 2016
– This seminar, the sixth in RSCS’s Arts in Southeast Asia Seminar series, warmly welcomed Prof Jérôme Samuel, co-director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CASE) and co-editor of the French scientific review Archipel
. Prof Samuel’s seminar session on “Representations of the Ottomans in Javanese reverse glass painting” was attended by more than 20 participants from local museums, universities, private institutions and the public.
Prof Samuel began with a broad description of the technical and material aspects of reverse glass painting, today considered a “minor art”. In the late 19th
century until the 1920s, however, glass sheet media was considered a luxury good among Javanese. Reverse glass painting is also a precious source of information on Javanese iconography as wood or paper from the same period have been more difficult to preserve.
Prof Samuel disclosing details about the oldest reverse glass painting he discovered (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)
Thanks to his pioneering inventory of reverse glass painting over 15 years, Prof Samuel was able to note that the oldest reverse glass painting he discovered dates from the mid-19th century (1890), although earlier pieces must have existed as mentioned in a travel report from 1850. It was painted by the Sultan of Sumenep (Madura), and stands as an extraordinary evidence of what was once a princely pastime.
Sources become more abundant at the end of the 1930s when the Dutch started to import cheaper glass from Japan, making this art more accessible to the lower classes. Prof Samuel went on to discuss the most common themes developed during this art’s golden age between the 1930s and 1960s. He explained how, because most reverse glass painters were also wayang puppeteers with the best knowledge of Javanese popular iconography, scenes were often taken from Indian epic Mahabharata and local figures such as the bride and groom (Loroblonyo) or themes from wayang theatre.
Prof Samuel discussing about the Turkish trends (Ottomania) in Javanese reverse glass painting (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)
Islamic themes included calligraphy, popular figures such as the Seven Sleepers, the Prophet Muhammad’s mount Burak, mosques of Mecca, Medina, local Javanese mosques and also mausolea, for which he presented a Hadrami example from Singapore. Most of these images were not only used to showcase one’s religious piety but also for their prophylactic/apotropaic qualities. Another familiar theme was modernity and technology, with scenes depicting Javanese Punokawan (clown servants) figures in modern interiors with electricity equipment, radios, European furniture, etc.
Prof Samuel went on to discuss Turkish trends (Ottomania) in Javanese reverse glass painting. He was able to find about 25 examples that survived the ravages of time. This trend spread from the end of the 19th century to the First World War approximately, when the Ottoman Empire enjoyed much prestige in the Muslim world, including among Southeast Asian Muslim communities.
In Indonesia, Ottomania topics were meant to exalt the majesty of the Ottoman empire against the Dutch colonial empire. Topics of this trend spread in Java ranged from the Station of Medina and the train of Sultan Abdul Hamid II (1876-1909), to the dreadnought of Kemal Atatürk berthed in the port of Istanbul and last, the palace of Topkapi.
Indonesian coats of arms inspired by Ottoman coat of arms would similarly carry political statements. Some were indigenised, as shown by an example dating from 1905 representing Japanese flags. Prof Samuel interpreted this as a tribute by the Javanese patrons or artists to the victorious Japanese empire who fought against the Russian empire between 1904 and 1905. According to Prof Samuel, the Japanese flag in this representation was used as a symbol of Asian resistance to Western domination.
Dr Helene Njoto, moderating the Q&A session (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)
At the end of the presentation, the public asked questions about local terminology of reverse glass painting, painters’ identity, the absence of ordinary life scenes among the themes represented, the lack of “realism”, the quality of the pigments used to paint on glass, the production during the Japanese occupation and the role of Chinese painters in the spread of this art form.
Participants at the seminar (Source: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)
The session was attended by more than 20 participants from local museums, universities, private institutions and the public.