Intricate: This blawong, used to hold kris, or ceremonial Javanese daggers, is one of more than 100 in Boedi Mranata’s collection. Courtesy of Boedi Mranata
The wide range of Boedi Mranata’s antique collection makes it hard to believe that it is a private collection. Besides Chinese antique ceramics that make up most of his collection, he is also keen on collecting other works of art, such as peranakan furniture and decorations, antique Javanese kris holders, and even genuine pieces of furniture owned by queen Juliana of the Netherlands. Boedi’s passion is driven by the pleasure of owning beautiful artworks and his motivation to preserve history. Profit making is not on his agenda.
Unlike many collectors who do it for the investment aspect, Boedi does it for the love of history — none of his treasures are for sale. It was this fascination with history that led to him collecting antiques.
“An object has a thousand stories to tell; they are representations of how people lived in bygone days,” says the chairman of the Ceramic Society of Indonesia.
Boedi Mranata graduated with a doctorate in biology from Hamburg University, Germany. Having living in Europe for 14 years has not lessened his fondness of Indonesian culture and heritage. Boedi is one of the founders of Indonesian Cross-Cultural Society, and has written various art-related as well as cultural-related articles, including “The Influence of Chinese Ceramics on the Existence and Culture of Peranakans in the Indonesian Archipelago” — an informative article that is a chapter of an anthology titled Indonesian Chinese Peranakan — A Cultural Journey.
It is worth mentioning that Boedi’s collection of antiques contains many rarities, such as a complete late 19th century Gamelan Slendro (a set of Javanese musical instruments, which were uniquely made in the peranakan style). Besides Javanese artwork, his collection includes Indonesian artifacts from various regions in Indonesia, such as Sumatra, Nias and Bali, and sculptures from the late I Nyoman Tjokot.
Ancient: Boedi Mranata’s collection of martavan, one of which is pictured here, was given a two-day exhibition at the National Museum in Jakarta. Courtesy of Beodi Mranata
With only a few exceptions, the majority of the artwork in his collection can be labeled as antique. To be classified as an antique, a piece must have been produced at least 100 years ago. His Chinese antique porcelain are among the oldest pieces in his collection. Boedi collects precious items, including ancient ones, from Chinese dynasties, such as the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing.
His love affair with antiques began when Boedi saw a Chinese gentong (earthenware container) that charmed him at first sight at an antique shop in Jakarta. “Priced at Rp 2 million it was very expensive for me at that time, in 1984. But I bought that gentong anyway. I had to have it,” he smiles. Later, as his budget permitted, he also bought antiques from leading auction houses, both in Indonesia and overseas, such as Denindo Auction House, Christie’s Auction House as well as Sotheby’s Auction House.
Boedi is a seventh-generation peranakan Chinese. Although technically peranakan refers to native-born Indonesians of mixed Indonesian and foreign ancestry, the term is most commonly applied to the descendants of early Chinese immigrants who have partially adopted indigenous customs, through either acculturation or marriage with indigenous communities.
His collection of peranakan antiques shows how Chinese culture has intermingled with local traditions. The term “peranakan furniture” means that the furniture was made by Chinese craftsmen in Indonesia, usually with local cultural influences.
For example, one can see typical Javanese roosters decorating an antique peranakan shrine. “They resemble the roosters that were usually placed on the roofs of the houses in Central Java and East Java,” says Boedi, the owner of that 19th century peranakan shrine.
Born and raised in Banyuwangi in East Java, Boedi has a penchant for both Chinese and Javanese artworks. He collects antique gebyok (Javanese large wooden room partitions). Also amazing is his collection of more than 100 antique blawong, designed to hold keris daggers.
His martavan collection will also amaze any art historian — in total, he owns approximately 600 martavans (sometimes called martaban). This year, along with Handojo Susanto, Boedi published a book titled Ancient Martavans – A Great Forgotten Heritage. Their book launch at the National Museum was accompanied by a two-day exhibition of Boedi’s private martavan collection.
In bygone days, those large stoneware or earthenware storage jars were used to store various goods, including rice wine. “Thousands of martavans have been found in our country. It proves that the trade between Indonesians and the Chinese has been thriving for over 1,000 years,” says Boedi.
Groovy: A Chinese-made martavan dating to before the 17th to 19th century. A tiger-skin motif adorns this earthenware jar, which was originally held by a member of a royal Melayu family. Courtesy of Beodi Mranata
Some of his pieces are extremely rare, such as an ancient martavan that was made in the Tang dynasty period in China; a rare, exquisite martavan with tiger-skin motif; as well as a “marbled” martavan from the Qing dynasty. According to Boedi, marbled martavans are priceless, as they are extremely rare.
Besides Asian artwork, he also possesses a number of pieces of old European furniture that previously belonged to queen Juliana of the Netherlands.
In 2011, Sotheby’s auctioned the queen’s collection, and Boedi bought various items, including chairs, desks and an exceptionally rare Dutch rosewood four-leaf screen. Adorned with 60 Kang Xi porcelain plates, the screen is a perfect combination of Chinese and Dutch art.
Exquisite: One of the prized pieces in Boedi’s collection is this Dutch rosewood four-leaf screen adorned with 60 Kang XI Chinese porcelain plates, circa 1886. Courtesy of Beodi Mranata
For Boedi, a true art historian has a desire to create a legacy for future generations and collecting antiques is a labor of love. “I have the pleasure of holding a piece of history in my hands,” he says.