The Musée Indo-Chinois in Paris: A Transcultural Perspective on Architectural Museums

by Michael S. Falser

Publication: RIHA Journal, 0071 / Creative Commons License CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0

Published: June 19th, 2013

Pages: 49

Language : English

Coming back from his first expedition to Angkor, archaelogist and architect Louis Delaporte comes up with an innovative way of sharing the splendor of ancient Khmer temples: rather than photograph sculptures and bas-reliefs, he starts to mould plaster casts from the original pieces.

This is the origin of the whole French school of Khmer museology, and of the monumental replicas erected during various 'Expositions Universelles' (World Fairs) from the 1860s well into the 1930s.

Art historian Michael Falser studies with great minutiae the pioneer years of the Paris Musée Indo-Chinois. At some point, he notes that while famous French architect Viollet-le-Duc was fascinated with European Gothic art, and found Khmer architecture 'decadent' and 'insignificant', Louis Delaporte was dealing with the same period of the history of mankind (10th-13th centuries), yet with a deep appreciation for Asian contributions, in particular from Cambodia.

'The colonial rivalry between Great Britain and France is also reflected in their distinct approach to museology and 'Oriental studies'. The author reminds us that 'the first photographs of Angkor were executed by the Scotsman John Thomson in 1866 and published in his book in his book The antiquities of Cambodia: A series of photographs taken on the spot,with letterpress description (Edinburgh, 1867).'

Full title of this paper: From Gaillon to Sanchi, from Vézelay to Angkor Wat. The Musée Indo-Chinois in Paris: A Transcultural Perspective on Architectural Museums.


Tags: archaeology, architecture, Exposition Universelle, museology, French explorers, plaster casts

About the Author

Portrait of Michael S.  Falser

Michael S. Falser

Born in 1973, Michael S. Falser is a professor and researcher in Art History at Heidelberg University, and recently visiting professor at Paris-Sorbonne University.