Head of a deity

Khmer empire
10th century
more object details

General Description

The Khmer king Yashovarman (r. 889-early 10th century CE) moved the kingdom's capital from Hariharalaya to the site today known as Angkor to establish his kingdom of Yashodharapura. He had already constructed temples in his ancestors' memories, and at Yashodharapura he built a pyramidal temple at the top of Phnom Bakheng, one of the few hills on the plain, and to the east constructed a great baray (reservoir). These three acts—commemorating ancestors, constructing a waterworks, and building a temple in his own honor—became the common dedications of a Khmer king.

During his reign, Yashovarman constructed other temples, including two dedicated to the Hindu triad of Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. While the complete sculptures of those figures no longer exist, the extant heads from his temple of Phnom Bok (built atop another hill) provide a clue for the identification of this head. The crown of the Phnom Bok Vishnu is multi-tiered, as is this figure's crown, suggesting that this head comes from a Vishnu figure.

In the earliest period of pre-Khmer art, Vishnu was the most popular of the Hindu gods, a popularity eclipsed by Shiva in the 9th century. As preserver, Vishnu took a variety of forms to overcome demonic threats or problems that confronted the human race. Yet, during this early period, it was in his four-armed form, not as one of his avatars, that he was most commonly depicted.

The characteristics that date this sculpture to the Bakheng period include the lozenge and half-lozenge band around the diadem and the treatment of the face, with its continuous brow, clearly delineated hairline and beard, and frank, outward expression. All are expressive of this early, strong, masculine style.

Excerpt from

  • Nancy Tingley, "Head of a deity," in The Arts of India, South East Asia, and the Himalayas, Anne R. Bromberg (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 212.

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