Arts and Culture
The vanishing art of Reverse Glass Painting is believed to have first emerged in Southeast Asia when the powerful Dutch Oost Indie Company (VOC) attempted to capture the favor of the King of Siam by gifting him in 1686 over a hundred glass panes from Holland, delicately illustrated with flora, animals, and ships. First much admired by Southeast Asian royals, this unique art form would become popular among prosperous Southeast Asian merchants and eventually Buddhist devotees. By the mid-19th century, Reverse Glass Painting, a European tradition, had transformed into a new local art form, mass produced for local religious purposes across mainland Southeast Asia. This paper explores the origins and transformation of Reverse Glass Painting there, which came to play a notable role in the trans-Asian trade, traded and admired between both European and Asian courts, before morphing into a sacred object dedicated to Buddhist merit-making and used eventually to delineate sacred places of pilgrimage. It will discuss also the crucial role played in this by Chinese artisans and merchants who spread this art form through the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia before being adopted by local artisans, helping its popularity grow in Burma, Northern Thailand and Cambodia.