Ayutthaya’s Vanities

Kruang Pra Tin or cosmetic products have been an indispensable albeit unsung resource throughout Siamese history, mattifying, concealing and perfuming women through the succession of royal dynasties and the descent of modernisation, the phoenix-like resurrections of the kingdom’s capital from smoldering pyre and the flux of fashions, tastes and beauty standards.

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Literary epics, poetry and historical records from the Ayutthaya period chorus the axiom that remains conventional wisdom today: a beautiful visage is valuable. And since makeup is beauty’s toolkit, Kruang Pra Tin were an important possession for women in the Ayutthaya court, and they availed themselves of many different kinds of cosmetics to carry looks befitting of a noblewoman. The products on a vintage Thai vanity can be divided into three categories: perfumes, toiletries and cosmetics. Essential oils, scented water, powders and fragrant flowers were staples within the cosmetics genre. The burgeoning range of products led to the development of containers and cosmetic sets in which they could be stored.

This cosmetic set of lidded jarlets can be traced back to the dusk of the Ayutthaya period, or the reign of the Ban Phlu Luang dynasty– the last to rule before Ayutthaya was sacked and abandoned in 1767. In the possession of noblewomen of the time, it likely held turmeric powder, perfumed powder, din sor pong (marl) and scented water in a variety of containers that might have even included a lime pot, typically used for storing products derived from limestone. Artisans fashioned these jarlets with exemplary skill, attention to detail and artistry, and adorned them in traditional Thai patterns such as krua tao karn kod (trailing flowers), pum kao bin (geometric trellis) and kranok motifs.

Porcelain of this caliber would have been produced in China: the specifications for the Kruang Pra Tin delivered to Chinese artisans and the handcrafted vessels sent back to Ayutthaya. The majority of cosmetic sets from this era are distinguished by their beautiful and unique glazing– vibrant indigo glaze meandering across pristine porcelain terrain is covered in a second layer of transparent glaze to create a gleaming, mirror-like finish that captures the beatific expression of the onlooker who, straying closer to the vessel in admiration of patterns that enlace the roots of Thailand’s present with peerless craftsmanship, catches sight of their reflection upon a vestige of a noblewoman’s vanity from six hundred years ago.

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RCB Auctions presents Art & Antiques Live Auction featuring a selection of exceptional antiques, decorative and rare items on Saturday 6 May at 12.30 p.m. Bidders and collectors can browse and bid on our website https://bit.ly/420Fwe2 as well as in person at RCB Auctions on the 4th floor.