Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Cleveland, Ohio (October 30, 2015) – The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts of the Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Cleveland Museum of Art announced today that the Ministry has authorized the transfer to Cleveland of a significant stone fragment in the National Museum that is now believed to be part of the early Khmer sculpture of Krishna Lifting Mount Govardhan in the Cleveland collection.
The stone fragment is one of a group of fragments found at Phnom Da, Cambodia in 1935 and subsequently sent to Belgium in the belief that the fragments were part of the Krishna sculpture, then in the collection of Adolphe Stoclet of Brussels. The Cleveland Museum of Art acquired the Krishna from Stoclet’s estate in 1973. In 1977, the museum’s then curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art recovered the fragments in Belgium. Some of them were incorporated into the extensive reconstruction of the Krishna, but nine pieces were not used, because they appeared to belong to two other sculptures in the National Museum of Cambodia that were also found at Phnom Da.
In 2005, Cleveland sent the unused pieces to Phnom Penh, where conservators incorporated many of them into their reconstruction of the two sculptures. The largest piece, consisting of a hand, strut, and supporting panel, appeared at the time to belong to one of those two works, also a depiction of the Hindu deity Krishna.
In early 2014, studies conducted by conservators at the National Museum of Cambodia suggested that the largest fragment may, instead, be part of the statue of Krishna in Cleveland. Subsequent petrographic analysis confirmed that the large fragment and the Cleveland sculpture were carved from the same block of stone. With the consent of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts in Cambodia, the museum’s current curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art then worked with conservators and digital technicians to produce high-resolution, three-dimensional digital scans of both the Krishna in Cleveland and the fragment in the National Museum of Cambodia. With the benefit of this new technology that was not available in either 1977 or 2005, the team of curators, conservators, material scientists, and digital technicians were able to confirm that the fragment with the hand, strut, and supporting panel belongs to the Krishna in the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Realizing the importance of reuniting pieces of a once monolithic sculpture, government officials in Cambodia agreed that the fragment should be transferred to Cleveland for further study and eventual restoration. The fragment has arrived in Cleveland in time for the visit of the National Museum of Cambodia’s conservator, who will share further information on the properties of Khmer stone sculpture as an ongoing part of the museum’s cultural cooperation agreement with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Dr. Kong Vireak, Director of the National Museum, commented that reuniting the fragment with the Krishna in Cleveland would “present a new, enhanced opportunity for the public in the United States to see one of the great artistic accomplishments of the Khmer people.” Dr. William M. Griswold, Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, noted that the transfer of the fragment “is yet another aspect of our cultural cooperation with Cambodia, and we look forward to reuniting the fragment with the figure of Krishna, the single most important Cambodian sculpture in the museum’s collection.”
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