Christoph Heinrich, director of the Denver Art Museum, handed over the piece, torso of Rama, to Yim Nolson, vice-chairman of the Economic, Social and Cultural Council of Cambodia, at a ceremony here.
The statement said during the course of research into works in the museum’s collection and following conversations with colleagues in Cambodia, the Denver Art Museum became aware of new facts related to the piece about its provenance that were not available to the museum when the object was acquired in 1986.
The piece is a monumental sandstone sculpture of Rama with a quiver behind his right shoulder, it said, adding that the piece dates to the early 10th century, and stands 62 inches high and is missing its head, arms and feet.
The torso of Rama was acquired by the Denver Art Museum in 1986 from the Doris Weiner Gallery in New York, the statement said.
Christoph Heinrich, director of the Denver Art Museum, said the museum decided to return the sculpture to Cambodia after it realized that the object was looted from Cambodia.
“We were recently provided with verifiable evidence that was not available to us at the time of acquisition, and immediately began taking all appropriate steps to deaccession the object and prepare it for its return home,”he said.
Yim Nolson expressed appreciation to the museum for the voluntary return of the torso of Rama to Cambodia, saying that the statue was stolen from Prasat Chen of the Koh Ker archaeological site in northern Cambodia at the time of the country’s civil war in the 1970s.
“We are joyful with the torso of Rama returning home. However, we are distressed to see the Rama still missing his head; therefore, the Royal Government of Cambodia appeals to all museums and collectors around the world to follow this good example by returning the Rama’s head to Cambodia,”he said.
Numerous Cambodian artifacts had been stolen and illegally trafficked out of the country during the civil-war era in the 1970s.
In the past three years, auction houses and museums in the U.S. had returned seven looted ancient statues to Cambodia, while Thailand gave 16 smuggled ancient treasures back to the country.
In October last year, a Norwegian private collector returned two looted artifacts to the country, and in January this year, France’s Guimet Museum gave back a stolen head of a Hindu god statue.