Sotheby’s Sale Features Cambodian Athlete Sculpture from Koh Ker Period

Sotheby Indian & Southeast Asian Works of Art sale on 24 March in New York will be led by a spectacular 10th century Khmer Koh Ker period Athlete from a European private collection (est. $2/3 million).

Acquired by the original owner over 40 years ago, the figure is mate to the Koh Ker athlete at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena that is almost identical in posture and physical appearance. The sale also includes early South and Southeast Asian stone and bronze sculpture, Indian miniature painting, Tibetan and Himalayan bronzes, the famous Pearl Canopy of Baroda, Raj-era silver and fine ivory works. Overall the 112 lot auction is estimated to fetch $8.2/12.2 million.

The Khmer Athlete was commissioned by emperor Jayavarman IV (r. 914 – 928) for his new capital at Koh Ker 80 miles north of Angkor. Koh Ker sculptures are among the great masterpieces of Khmer art. The impressive size and quality of the figure reflects the prestige and importance of the ruler who commissioned it as well of the skill of his craftsmen. The Athlete’s pose derives from Cambodian dance postures which often depicted Hindu epics and mythology. These dances have been a constant feature in the country’s long history. The imposing stance of this figure indicates that it was more significant than a mere temple guardian. Indeed, the Athlete would have been a major mythological figure, instantly recognizable to the Khmer elite of the day and this depiction stands as one of the great achievements of Khmer art.

A further important Khmer work in the sale is a sandstone Standing Shiva, Baphuon style, from the 11th century (est. $300/500,000). This beautifully modeled figure is arguably one of the finest sculptures of the Baphuon School. Its expressive face includes a third eye on the forehead identifying the figure as Shiva.

Image: Cambodian Athlete Sculpture. Sandstone, Khmer, Koh Ker Period, 10th Century. Height: 62 in. (158.4 cm.) Est. $2/3 million. Photo: Sotheby’s.

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