- Burnished Beauty: The Art of Stone in Early Southeast Asia
Burnished Beauty, a catalog of stone artifacts from an exhibition organized by the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong is a feast for the eyes. The book is divided geographically into sections. It opens with an introduction and notes leading into a brief discussion of jade culture in Viet Nam by [End Page 163] the editor, Christopher Frape. This is followed by a short discussion of new excavations in Viet Nam at the Trang Kenh site. The rest of Burnished Beauty is divided into sections, northern Viet Nam, central and south Viet Nam, Thailand and Laos, Indonesia, Philippines, and Taiwan. These sections are, in turn, divided into chronological periods, starting with the earliest artifacts.
Frape attempts to address and clarify the definition of terms related to jade in China before turning to briefly discuss the social value and meaning of the stone. Frape then considers the presence of jade through the various "cultures" in Viet Nam such as Phung Nguyen, Dong Dau, Go Mun, and Dong Son and the morphological changes of artifacts made from the material.
The essay following Frape's is a rather curious inclusion, which is, in effect, an excavation report presenting the findings of research at the jade-working site, Trang Kenh. The authors list the stone and ceramic artifacts recovered. The importance of the site in the production of jade artifacts is only mentioned in an editor's note. One cannot help feeling that this contribution is out of place in the catalog, although the excavation is mentioned in some instances in photographic notes on artifacts from early Vietnamese sites.
The main body of the book comprises photographs of stone artifacts, divided into sections. Each section of the catalog provides a brief overview of the archaeology of the region, followed by photographs of selected artifacts. An explanatory note, providing information on the probable use and morphology of each artifact, accompanies the photographs.
Each artifact is identified by type, such as halberd or dagger. A broad cultural association is given and dates provided. The color and type of stone and dimensions are also presented. The photography is very well done and serves to accent the beauty of the artifacts. The lack of provenance information is regrettable. This should have been listed in cases in which provenance was known. It is clear, however, that many of the artifacts are in the hands of private owners and hence provenance information may not be available.
Burnished Beauty is a good general reference for those interested in the stylistic evolution of stone artifacts in selected parts of Southeast Asia. The astounding beauty of these artifacts make the book a worthwhile addition to any library. This said, Burnished Beauty would have made a better reference book if examples of quotidian artifacts could have been included but one must note the title of the book and be satisfied with what is offered.