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Malat: A Story of Courtly Romance, Balinese painting E74172

Malat: A Story of Courtly Romance, Balinese painting E74172
E074172 Painting - Detail, Bali, Indonesia, Southeast Asia. 
© Australian Museum 
photographer: AM, Photography Dept - Howard Hughes
‘Reading’ the story depicted in this painting was difficult, because contemporary Kamasan painters, who helped interpreting classical Balinese paintings in the early 1970s, were familiar with only a few standard episodes of Malat stories. Through his studies, Professor Anthony Forge was able to work out the explanation summarised below.

The painting shows courtly romance depicted in three loosely associated scenes. The main scene - extending right across the bottom of the painting - shows a dance probably organized by Panji. He is shown dancing with a high minister or subsidiary king, in the centre. The royal spectators are on the right, with a king and some queens in the top row. The third woman from the right is a princess, who probably loves and is loved by Panji. On the left the orchestra is shown in great detail and behind it are more aristocratic ladies, no doubt also in love with Panji!

The scene in the top part of the painting represents a performance of shadow puppets, offered by a courtier to the same king. The shadow puppet-play is from the Ramayana, the episode in which the mythical bird Jatayu confronts the demon Rawana, who has abducted Sita. Shadow puppet performances take place at night and this is indicated in the painting by the stars in the sky. The prolific and perfumed Pudak tree behind the audience emphasizes the atmosphere of courtly love that is so pervasive in the Malat stories. A small courtly episode at the top left corner does not involve Panji.

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