Torso of a Male Deity, Baphuon style, Khmer Empire, 11th century. Sandstone. 98 x 29 x 16 cm (38.6 x 11.4 x 6.3 in.). © Jan Liégeois. Courtesy AXEL VERVOORDT at TEFAF Maastrich 2023
Provenance: Bonhams Cornette de Saint-Cyr, 25 October 2022, lot 66;
Jean-Pierre Rousset (1936-2021), Paris, by descent;
Robert Rousset (1901-1981), Paris, acquired from Peng Seng, Bangkok, 27 April 1965.
This elegant male torso represents an unidentified (Hindu) deity. The head, arms and feet are missing. There is a notable difference in weathering and patina between the front and back of the figure, with the front being slightly more eroded, particularly on the abdomen. On the shoulder(s), sides, back and legs of the figure, where the original surface polish is preserved, a difference can be observed between these surfaces - representing naked skin - and the clothing, which has been left deliberately unpolished to provide a tantalizing contrast of textures.
The figure wears a sampot, a traditional Cambodian garment that existed in many variations and remains popular to this day. Remarkable here is the delicate execution of the sash and the various elaborate folds that secure the rectangular piece of cloth, showcasing the artist’s talent for observation.
In comparison to the more ‘plump’ sculptures belonging to earlier styles, this torso displays a more slender and naturalistic sense of proportions, for example in the slightly elongated body and the narrow hips.
At its peak between the 11th and 13th century, the Khmer Empire directly or indirectly ruled over most of mainland Southeast-Asia, an area that today comprises not only Cambodia, but also parts of Thailand, Laos and southern Vietnam today, in addition to parts of southern China.
Khmer sculpture can be subdivided chronologically in a number of styles, each named after the temple complex that serves as its archetype. Regarded as the most important of these styles are the following:
Koh Ker style (941-944)
Baphuon style (1010-1080)
Angkor Wat style (1100-1175)
Bayon style (late 12th to early 13th century)
Whereas early (pre-9th to 10th century) Cambodian art was heavily influenced by Indian styles and themes, Khmer artists developed a distinctive and wholly original style of their own by the 10th century. Despite the limitations of the material (many types of stone that were used by Southeast Asian sculptures are inherently brittle and fragile), Khmer artists sought to carve sculptures wholly in the round, so that they could be looked at from all sides. In order to achieve this, instead of using supportive stelae, as is more commonly seen in other nearby regions, more creative solutions were needed to distribute the weight and support the figures, such as arches or certain divine attributes like a piece of clothing. In the present example, supports were incorporated up to the lower calves to keep the statue in equilibrium (although additional means of support may also have been present).
In addition to their artistic prowess, the Khmer people were also highly accomplished administrators and engineers, erecting temples, reservoirs, extensive road- and waterways systems, bridges, hospitals and guest houses.
Some of the most significant pieces of Khmer art can be admired in the National Museum of Cambodia, located in Phnom Penh, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and the Musée Guimet in Paris, among others. The Brooklyn Museum of Art holds a torso that is very similar to the present example.