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Marcel Nies

Baphuon, 11th century
Sandstone, polished with fine natural weathered patina
height 50 cm.

From early times the icon of Vishnu has expressed the desire for a divine delivery amidst the evils and miseries of life. Through his ten incarnations Vishnu became the prominent second god of the Trimurti, the Hindu triad. He is seen as a preserver of the universe, while Brahma and Shiva are regarded respectively as the creator and destroyer of the cosmos. It was believed that man attained salvation by faithfully following predetermined paths of duty, and that powers of good and evil (gods and demons) are in contention for dominion of the world. When one of these powers threatens to prevail, Vishnu or his avatar descends to earth, to equalize them and restore the universal balance.

The god’s face is characterized by slightly raised eyebrows above almond-shaped eyes, a mouth with finely delineated lips and elongated earlobes. His hair is arranged in feather-like locks gathered into a chignon topped by an open lotus flower, all held together with a circular jewelled band. The typical sampot has numerous fine pleats and sits high on the waist. This complex arrangement of different components is wrapped around the body and held in place at the back by a belt with a double fishtail. Part of the sampot covers the left thigh in a series of pockets and the end of the belt is secured on the right thigh. The deeply indented navel and the engraved nipples are well marked in a manner typical of the period.

Fully modelled in the round, this figure has facial features which echo the typical Baphuon physiognomic type. This distinctive and elegant Khmer style is named after the famous temple situated in Angkor and dating from around 1010-1080. This pyramid-mountain of King Udayadityavarman II, who ruled from 1050-1066 AD, was built on a rectangular base measuring 120 meters x 90 meters and was over 50 meters high. The hairstyle, the construction of the sampot, and the almond shaped eyes are all typical traits of the style.

The divine presence of this well carved male figure derives from the perfection of volume and line, the finely delineated features and realistic facial expression. The god has an elegant expression, typical of the period, and wears an attractive smile, providing an air of charm and dignified liveliness. The sculpture is a pure example of the classical Baphuon period, a significant icon of Cambodian art.

Private collection, The Netherlands.

Art Loss Register Certificate, Reference S00008214.

J. Boisselier, Asie du Sud-Est, Le Cambodge, I, 1966, p. 253, fig. c.
S. E. Lee, Ancient Cambodian Sculpture, 1969, fig. 22 and fig. 23.
W. Felten, and M. Lerner, Das Erbe Asiens, Skulpturen der Khmer und Thai vom 6. zum 14. Jahrhundert, 1988, fig. 24.
E. C. Bunker and D. Latchford, Adoration and Glory. The Golden Age of Khmer Art, 2004, fig. 76 and fig. 77.

all text, images Marcel Nies


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