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Works of art in sandstone from Angkor in Paris‘ Musée Guimet

Head of the Shiva Deity, sandstone from the Temple of Phom Bok, 10th century a.D.

(November 2013) Fascinating sandstone artifacts will be on exhibit up until January 13th 2014 in Paris‘ Musée Guimet. The 250 or so pieces emanate from Cambodia’s temple city of Angkor. The title of the exhibit is „Angkor. The myth around Louis Delaporte and Cambodia”.

Its focal point is the French scientist and navy officer Louis Delaporte, who led an expedition from 1866 to 1868 along the Mekong river where he discovered the impressive complex including ruins of cities, and, in their midst, the Angkor Temple in the middle of the jungle. Europeans had previously reported on the sandstone wonder, which today counts among the world heritage sites.

Brahma Deity, early 10th century a.D. proximity of Vat Baset, sandstone.

Brahma Deity, early 10th century a.D. proximity of Vat Baset, sandstone.

Delaporte was mesmerized by the hitherto unknown Khmer culture and possessed by the idea of bringing the kingdom’s works of art closer to Europeans. He spent the next years collecting valuable pieces and crafting plaster casts.

Full frontal view of Biaon. Drawing by Louis Delaporte and H. Devérin, March 31st, 1891.

A highly gifted artist, Delaporte captured his discovery in manifold drawings, some of which are included in the exhibit.

But his return to Europe in 1874 accompanied by hundreds of crates was a disappointment. No-one was interested in his findings originating from the 10th to 13th century. Even the Louvre’s officials declined to present his findings. It wasn’t until 1878 and the World Exhibition in Paris that pieces were presented to the public and doors began to open for Delaporte. He was later to found a Khmer Art museum in Compiègne and delegate specialists to Asia to cast plaster facsimiles of the pieces once again.

But in the meantime the zeitgeist had changed and the original artifacts as well as the cast facsimiles disappeared in cellars and vault to be rediscovered in 2011 by the French minister of cultural affairs.

Musée des Arts Asiatiques Guimet (French)

Photos: Musée Guimet

Buddha, guarded by the Nāga-Snake, Late 12th to early 13th century a.D. from the Preah Khan Temple Complex in Kompong Svay, sandstone.

Butterinng the ocean of milk (detail): demons holding the snake. First half of the 12th century, Angkor Wat. Plaster cast.

Battle of Lanka and Rayana on his chariot (detail) first half of the 12th century, Tympanon, Angkor Wat, Plaster cast.

(19.11.2013, USA: 11.19.2013)