Thuistezien 224 — 03.04.2021

Arin Rungjang

In 1600, at the height of the Dutch golden age, a rather small painting was hanging in the boardroom of the Dutch East India Company. Similarly to the other paintings hanging in the same room, this painting represented an overwhelming wealth and prosperity to the people who would sit in this room. The city depicted on this painting in an impressive birds eye view is the Ayutthaya Kingdom, a city that for hundreds of years functioned as the capital of Siam, the present day Thailand. Unknowingly to this small group of people who financially benefited from this painting, was that this painting was a highly imaginative and Western-minded idealized version of this city. Like the painter himself, these successful traders would never visit the city themselves. Still, together with the other paintings that occupied the walls of the board room, the painting would give the traders the impression that they were surrounded by the world. This feeling was not for nothing because it was this world their own world was built from and which they ruled.

The name of the painting is ‘View of Judea, the Capital of Siam’. It has been attributed to Johannes Vinckboons who was a painter specialised in this particular type of painting. Most likely, he used sketches from people who had actually visited the city as his reference but he also allowed himself some artistic freedom by adding a chain of mountains in the back which, in fact, do not exist. Just like the title of the painting contains an Europeanized version of the name Ayutthaya, Vinckboons Europeanized the view of the city in order to fit the Dutch high expectations of the city’s richness and beauty, highlighting its many large temples and their golden spires. Europeans were impressed by this city that functioned completely differently from a typical European city at that time. Although very few Europeans went to Ayutthaya, and even fewer went past gates of the actual center, a great interest for the city resulted in books informing them about the city. Even if the information that the books provided as well as the few depictions that were made of Ayutthaya might not be completely historically accurate, they are highly valuable to Thailand today. Furthermore, it might be some of the only information they have about this place. 100 years after the writing of the books and the making of the painting, the city was destroyed and the only remains of the city today are its ruins.

In the film above, the story of the painting and the city it represents is told by Gijs van der Ham, the senior curator at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam where the painting is now hanging. The video is an artwork by the Thai artist Arin Rungjang. The interview with Van der Ham was made as a starting point of the exhibition ‘Judea’ that took place at West The Hague in 2016.

Text: Rosa Zangenberg