A statue of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman, which has been in the possession of the Cleveland Museum of Art since 1982, was not looted from the Prasat Chen temple in Preah Vihear province, the museum has claimed.
According to a report from Cleveland’s The Plain Dealer newspaper on Tuesday, Sonya Rhie Quintanilla, the museum’s curator of Indian and Southeast Asian art, traveled to Cambodia a few months ago to ascertain if the 10th century statue was in fact severed from a plinth at the temple in the Koh Ker complex.
“Our work on the piece and its provenance is still underway, and terribly time-consuming, but so far, based on my extensive fieldwork in Cambodia earlier this year, I can report that I did not find any physical evidence to confirm that the Cleveland Hanuman is from Prasat Chen,” the newspaper quoted Ms. Quintanilla as saying in an email.
It said Ms. Quintanilla made a resin copy of the bottom of the statue, which was cut from its feet but appears in a kneeling position. Upon visiting Prasat Chen temple, she was unable to find a match in two spaces where it is believed the statue may have been displayed.
The museum’s interim director, Fred Bidwell, is also quoted as saying that the museum wants “to know the truth” about how the statue came to leave its base.
Last week, auction house Christie’s and the Norton Simon Museum in California promised to return two statues that were looted from the site during the 1970s. That followed the June 2013 repatriation of two statues from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. A court case against auction house Sotheby’s ended in a settlement in December that will soon see the return of a Duryodhana statue. Each of those has been traced back to Prasat Chen.
Anne Lemaistre, the head of Unesco in Cambodia, said the agency had not been contacted about the Cleveland museum’s investigation.
“Let’s wait for the full investigation and maybe we could invite our Cambodian and all the foreign experts to investigate further on their side also, maybe to cross information,” she said by telephone Wednesday.
“Because I do welcome the statement of Bidwell—OK—we could maybe assist them in finding” that out, she said.
Ms. Lemaistre said that even though the Hanuman statue’s provenance is not yet known, “it is a looted statue, based on the picture on the article, because of the way the leg and ankle was cut is a proof of looting.”
As for the statue’s hue, which differs from those from Prasat Chen that have either already been or are awaiting return to Cambodia from Sotheby’s Christie’s and the Norton Simon Museum, “we know that the reddish sandstone comes from the same quarry in the Kulen that helped to build Banteay Srei” temple, Ms. Lemaistre said.
crothers@cambodiadaily.com
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