The head, which has been in the Musée Guimet’s collection since 1889, will remain in Cambodia for the next five years
After almost 130 years apart, the head and body of a seventh-century Khmer statue are to be reunited at the National Museum of Cambodia thanks to an exchange agreement with the Musée Guimet in Paris, France’s national museum of Asian art. The restored sculpture of Harihara, a fusion of the Hindu gods Vishnu (Hari) and Shiva (Hara), will be inaugurated at the Phnom Penh museum tomorrow (21 January).
The head, which has been in the Musée Guimet’s collection since 1889, will remain in Cambodia for the next five years, says the museum curator Thierry Zéphir. It will be reattached to the decapitated body of Harihara, which the National Museum of Cambodia acquired in 1944, after the museum’s conservation team—led by Bertrand Porte of the French School of Asian Studies—confirmed they were a match.
The head was discovered in the late 19th century in a ruined temple at Phnom Da by Etienne Aymonier, a French colonial administrator and the first archaeologist to survey the remains of the Khmer empire. The Lyon industrialist Emile Guimet acquired the fragment, along with other Cambodian artefacts shipped to France for the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris, for his ambitious new museum dedicated to the religions of the Far East.
In return, Cambodian heritage officials are due in March to send sculptural fragments (ankles, feet and pedestal) recently excavated from the site of Koh Ker to the Musée Guimet, where they will complete a tenth-century statue of the goddess Uma dancing. The exchange could be renewed by mutual agreement, Zéphir says.