At the turn of the 1200s, the Khmer Empire of Cambodia was one of the most powerful in the world. From 1181 to 1218, King Jayavarman VII ruled under the banner of Buddhism and expanded his dominions to include most of peninsular Southeast Asia. For centuries Angkor was the official capital, but Jayavarman VII built a second political and religious center about 68 miles northwest of Angkor at Banteay Chhmar, his “Second Citadel.”
This exhibition features an unprecedented loan from the National Museum of Cambodia of a section from the sculpted enclosure wall of the great royal temple at Banteay Chhmar. Intricately carved in low relief, the wall depicts a unique, larger-than-life image of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Ten-Armed Lokeshvara, surrounded by devotees. Complementing the loan of the bas-relief from Banteay Chhmar, works from the Cleveland Museum of Art’s renowned collection of Cambodian art from the time of Jayavarman VII will be on view, contextualized by photographs of the site by Jaroslav Poncar and digital reconstructions by Olivier Cunin.
Reconciling the violence that accompanies empire building with Buddhist doctrines advocating peace and compassion, Khmer rulers, religious leaders, and artists worked together to create extraordinary images for worship and rituals intended to save the souls of fallen war heroes, honor the dead, and ensure ongoing prosperity for the nation. Made in bronze and stone, the images were housed in complex temples of astonishing scale and innovation, with faces emerging from towers and miles of bas-reliefs retelling histories and myths. Thanks to the generosity of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts of the Kingdom of Cambodia, visitors to the Cleveland Museum of Art have the opportunity to experience some of the grandeur of the temple at Banteay Chhmar.