Know the history of Indonesia Paintings – Part 1

Know the history of Indonesia Paintings – Part 1

The art and culture of Indonesia has been largely influenced by the confluence and interaction of various world religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and local indigenous customs and several foreign powers. Indonesia’s strategic location on the ancient maritime trading routes between the Far East and the Near East definitely stands an advantage. The result is a synthesis of a number of customers, represented in Indian art forms.

The Sri Vijaya Empire – Golden era of the Buddhist art

Indonesian art is marked by rich heritage, culture and tradition of Hindu-Buddhist architecture and sculpture. India has been a strong influencer from the 1st century CE onwards. Unfortunately not many early Buddhist structure survive today but for the Batujaya plastered brick stupas, located in West Java, belonging to the 4th century. The Sailendra dynasty of Sri Vijaya Empire is considered as the golden era of the Buddhist art that influenced the political and cultural life of the Southeast Asian peninsula for several centuries. Both Mahayana as well as the Vajrayana forms of Buddhism was practised during the times of the Sri Vijaya Empire with the islands of Java and Sumatra the seat of the empire.

Stone and bronze sculpture became mainstream under the Sailendra dynasty in Bali and Java between the 8th and 10th century CE. These sculptures were either relief sculptures or free-standing statues and friezes that were brought into temples; they are marked by final details, purity and tranquillity of expression.


The temple of Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, situated in central Java is the best example of classical Hindu-Buddhist sculpture. Constructed in the 8th century, it is supposedly a representation of the map of the Buddhist cosmos; it is a skilful combination of spiritual symbolism, edifying narrative sculptures, contemplative stillness and monumental design. The entire structure looks like a stupa, and when viewed from above, it is more like a mandala, a concentric figure or diagram signifying the spiritual importance in Buddhism.

The structure has 504 Buddha statues and 2672 relief panels, narrative of the life of the Buddha. As a visitor goes higher though the eight levels of the temple, the entire story can be viewed from beginning to end. The last three levels house the statues and stupas of the Buddha.

The Majapahit Empire

The 11th century witnessed the decline of the Sri Vijaya Empire followed by the decline of Buddhism as well and power swinging to Eastern Java. Established in 1293, the Majapahit Empire practised a combination of Buddhism, Hinduism and animism and this is clearly reflected in the religious architecture. Indonesian art enjoyed a prosperous period under Majapahit rule and a great number of Hindu – Buddhist temples or candi were raised during this period. The choice of building material was brick and mortar of palm sugar and vine sap. Majapahit architecture is marked by tall and slender roofed-style red brick gates, a robust geometrical quality, and designed with a sense of verticality, realized through several horizontal lines. The temples of Bali, even to this day, have some influence of Majapahit influence still left in them.