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2. Urn–shaped instrument
Cambodia, Samrong district
2nd century BCE – 1st century CE
Bronze, cast in the piece mould method
Height: 34 cm
Urn–shaped instrument

The urn–shaped instrument has no clapper and was rung by striking the body with a beater on the enlarged edge and on the central blank square panel. Traditionally, these percussion instruments were used during cremations and religious ceremonies, to perform the last hymn in honour of the dead. Some may have been used as a means of announcement, or for putting fear into demons and enemies.

The bronze has a lenticular cross section, and three small suspension loops, one on each side just below the neck, and a third at the base. The bronze may have been suspended allowing to resonate more strongly when struck. On both sides, a complex geometric design disposed around a central square panel is formed by opposed J and hook motifs, and is in stimulating contrast to the simplicity of the volume of this superb bronze.

Ancient Cambodia was an active participant in international exchange. Its proximity to trade routes made it a prosperous mercantile and cultural centre. Metal played an important role in local cultures and excavations in Pursat province near the Battambang area and in Northeast Cambodia near Samrong, indicate the existence of a highly developed bronze casting tradition connected to the Dong Son culture of northern Vietnam.

This rare urn-shaped percussion instrument is in excellent condition, the geometrical motifs not being disfigured by worn areas. The expressive volume, the fine detailing and beautiful natural patina underpin the aesthetic presence of this early bronze.

E. Bunker and D. Latchford, Khmer Bronzes, New Interpretations of the Past, 2011, p. 11, fig. 1.14.

Skanda trust, London.

A. J. Bernet Kempers, The Kettledrums of Southeast Asia, 1988, pp. 588–589, Plates 22.11.a–b.
J. P. Barbier-Mueller, Rêves de Collection, Sept millénaires de sculptures inédites – Europe, Asia, Afrique, 2003, pp. 78–81, fig. 29.
Ph. D. R. A. Pegg, Passion for Form, Selections of Southeast Asian Art from the MacLean Collection, 2007, pp. 48–51, fig. 18.
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, Gods of Angkor, Bronzes from the National Museum of Cambodia, 2010, pp. 18–29, Essay of Ian C. Glover “Bronze Drums, Urns, and Bells in the Early Metal Age of Southeast Asia”.

all text, images © Marcel Nies
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