Khmer Empire Antiquities Part II

In May 2019 I had the opportunity to explore the Art Institute of Chicago and Field Museum to research and analyze the ancient Khmer empire artifacts from Cambodia as research for an upcoming book. It was my delight to explore similar artifacts from this Labor Day in Kansas City at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

There are a few similarities but also unique findings as well. As in Chicago it was in Kansas City that the description of these artifacts are incorrect. Minor points to help the general public understand but my way of thinking says that breeds ignorance. Let’s accept them for what they are instead of pandering, shall we?

As always though, I am grateful for the chance to explore more about this culture that has intrigued me since 1993 when I first discovered a book tucked away in the archives of a university library.

A partial bas-relief describing the Churning of the Ocean of Milk.
Sugriva the monkey king (end) leads smaller gods in this work.
Seated Buddha meditating for seven weeks. The serpent king lifts him up to prevent him drowning during a flooding storm. The artifact hosted in Chicago is more complete with the serpent’s head raised above and covering Buddha from the rains.
A pillar fragment with a heavenly maiden or devata in sandstone.
The crown on her head resembles the towers of the Angor Wat temple.
Except for the docents, we had the Nelson Atkins museum to ourselves.

Khmer Empire Antiquities

Because I am still researching my novel based on the Khmer empire in Cambodia, I had hoped to discover some relics or art from this period and the Art Institute of Chicago did not disappoint.

What was disappointing were the descriptions of the artifacts. Which temple site was this taken from? Did the institute know?

One more disappointing concern? The description placards all say “Angkor period”. To be intellectually honest, let’s call it what it is. These were all from the Khmer Empire of Cambodia in the 11-12th centuries. The name Angkor is a reference to two of the biggest temples in this region, Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. The terms “Khmer” or “empire” were not mentioned.

All these disappointments are cast aside for now because of the thrill of discovery. They were beautiful in a way that only those who study the culture can appreciate. Up until this moment I had only discovered a bas relief of an apsara dancer in the Houston Museum of Fine Arts.

For now, I will appreciate the experience but will write to the Art Institute for detailed information about this amazing collection.

Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, Angkor period 12/13th century Cambodia

Buddha, Khmer Empire period, 11th century. Here the naga (snake) raises him from flooding waters during his meditation and protects him from the rains on his head.
A goddess Angkor period, 12th century Cambodia
A celestial dancer called an Apsara. Angkor period, 11th century Cambodia
Guardian Lion Angkor period, 12th century Cambodia