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Museum Partnership Creates Cambodia's First Metal Conservation Laboratory
Incense burner or lamp, Cambodia Angkor period 12th century Bronze, H x W x D: 30.5 x 25 x 13 cm. Photo: National Museum of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.

WASHINGTON, DC.- The enduring significance of bronze in Cambodian culture is the theme of "Gods of Angkor: Bronzes from the National Museum of Cambodia," the first international exhibition to focus specifically on the skills and achievements of Khmer bronze casters. On view at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery from May 15 through Jan. 23, 2011, the exhibition features magnificent bronze sculptures and ritual objects created within a Khmer cultural context that spanned some 1,600 years, from late prehistory through the Angkor period (9th–15th centuries).

Thirty-six masterworks from the National Museum of Cambodia's unparalleled collection of some 7,000 bronzes make up the exhibition, co-curated by Freer and Sackler colleagues Louise Allison Cort, curator of Ceramics, and Paul Jett, head of the Department of Conservation and Scientific Research.

"This exhibition presents the stunning accomplishments of Khmer bronze casters," said Cort. "These bronzes are among the most exquisite expressions of Khmer ideals of religious imagery and ritual implements."

The exhibition, which grew out of a collaboration between the Freer and Sackler galleries and the National Museum of Cambodia to develop a conservation program at the National Museum, explores significant developments in bronze casting, as well as cultural and religious developments that coalesced during the Angkor period into a recognizable Khmer style of bronze form, finish and ornament.

The first of three linked galleries presents the two prehistoric bronze works in the exhibition: an urn with pictorial decoration and a bell, both examples of rare and highly valued items that were traded over long distances within Southeast Asia. The gallery also previews the Angkor period's remarkable accomplishments in bronze casting with three sculptures: a crowned Buddha, an image of the elephant-headed Hindu deity Ganesha and a kneeling woman who may have represented an attendant in the royal palace or a temple.

In the second gallery, the exhibition delves more deeply into the evolution of bronze sculptural styles within Khmer culture. Buddhist sculptures from the pre-Angkor period (6th–8th centuries) reveal early Khmer adaptations of Indian prototypes. A highlight of this gallery is a group of seven diverse bronze figures unearthed together in 2006 that reveal the dynamic interaction of early bronze religious sculpture: they include not only images in local and regional styles but also two imported Chinese figures, both with gilding.

Bronzes from the 11th through 14th centuries in the third gallery project a distinctly Angkorian style. Objects include ritual paraphernalia and Buddhist and Hindu sculpture. A mirror that may have adorned a palace and a weighty bell for a court elephant suggest the wide importance of bronze objects among the Cambodian elite. Unlike bronze religious sculpture, these little-studied ritual and ornamental objects have rarely been exhibited.

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery | Louise Allison Cort | "Gods of Angkor" | Paul Jett |

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