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The mysterious bronze from Cambodia (now at the Getty)

February 19, 2011 |  1:30 pm


The diminutive figure called a "Vajra-bearing Guardian" is not the most commanding artwork in "Gods of Angkor: Bronzes From the National Museum of Cambodia," opening Feb. 22 at the J. Paul Getty Museum. But it may be the most mysterious.

Unearthed just five years ago, the 5 7/8-inch-tall bronze is part of a cache of ancient Buddhist statues dug up by a Cambodian villager while planting a tree in her yard. The find raised many questions about the origin of the artworks. Among the thorniest is how two of the statues, including the "Guardian," traveled to Cambodia from China.

With one hand raised in a calming gesture and the other holding a vajra, or cudgel, the figure was probably designed as a protector of Buddha in a sculptural altarpiece. Scholars surmise that the "Guardian" might have become the personal property of a Chinese monk who carried it on his travels. But, as art historian Hiram Woodward writes in the exhibition catalog, "almost nothing is known about what kinds of images might have been carried by individual monks journeying from one spot to another."

For the full Arts & Books article on the exhibition, click here.

--Suzanne Muchnic    

Credit: The J. Paul Getty Trust