Sunday, January 29, 2012

Spreading the Word: Angkorian Plate Returned to Cambodia

This post is to further spread the word on the recent repatriation of an Angkorian (Jayavarman VII) era silver plate to Cambodia. The original article is here, and this story came to my attention through the vigilant reporting of my colleague Alison Carter (here). Thanks! What's important to me is that the article suggests the plate was voluntarily returned by its original purchaser, one Zelnik Istvan, a Hungarian businessman who claimed to have purchased the item in 1970 in order to add it to his private Southeast Asian Gold Museum. Of course, the legal export status, context, ownership history and provenance of the other 50,000 artifacts is not discussed, but this case demonstrates that repatriation is not out of the question for his museum when warranted, which is very commendable.

According to the article, the original vendors claimed a provenience around the Banteay Chhmar temple, but this is unverifiable. Tit Sokha, a representative of the National Museum in Phnom Penh, mentions the ICOM Cambodia Red List of stolen antiquities, which has encouraged the return of some specific artifacts (mostly sculpture) by private foreign collectors, but no mention is made if the plate was on the list itself, or known about at all before Istvan returned it. Thus, although original context will forever be lost, the return of this item at least allows it to be repaired and shared with the Cambodian people (and the world) as part of their heritage.

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