This glorious sandstone male head represents Vishnu, the divine Hindu preserver and protector of human life, a role that provided natural analogies with earthly kingship for the Khmer. The head is carved in a classic Pre Rup style combined with an elaboration of a chignon-cover enriched by floral forms of a type that developed earlier in the tenth century during the late Bakheng period. The chignon-cover is shown in typical Bakheng style with one corner aligned with the nose.
The head is adorned with a royal diadem carved to imitate a real gold example that was attached at the back by ribbons tied in a square knot. The inner ears are each described by three running crisp scalloped inner rims that act as parenthesis enclosing the head. A moustache with tips that curl up, a mouth with full rimmed lips and wide-open eyes under a continuous eyebrow ridge distinguish the head giving it an extremely realistic and tactile appearance.
The facial features are similar to those represented on numerous Khmer sculptures carved early in the Pre Rup period, 944-968, especially to those of the standing Vishnu in the Los Angeles Country Museum of Art. (E. Bunker and D. Latchford Adoration and Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art, Chicago, Art Media Resources, 2004, 178-179, no. 35)
The full Vishnu image would have been shown standing with four arms with the hands holding identifying attributes similar to the way a late tenth century Vishnu image in a European private collection that still retains all its appendages is represented. (ibid 202-203, no. 66). Emma C. Bunker
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