In 1686 King Louis XIV of France had the great Hall of Mirrors in Versailles specially prepared to receive, with exceptional pomp and ceremony, a group of foreign envoys. The envoys brought with them two shiploads of gifts for the court. In fact they delivered so many objects of gold, silver, and lacquer the French complained that their list would be as long as a book. The envoys had been sent from the kingdom of Ayutthaya, or "Siam," as it was know in the West. Though little remembered today, Ayutthaya was one of the largest and most important kingdoms in Southeast Asia.
The Kingdom of Siam: The Art of Central Tahiland, 1350û1800 documents the first U.S. exhibition of classical art from Thailand in more than thirty years. It collects eighty-nine of the finest surviving works from Ayutthaya; drawn from collections in Thailand, Europe, and the United States, many of these are being displayed for the first time in the West. The catalogue, prepared under the primary direction of Forrest McGill, chief curator of the Asian Art Museum, is not only a work of exceptional scholarship but also the fascinating story of a once-glorious culture that until now had been almost entirely lost in the mists of time.