AN ancient bronze boat prow ornament from the finest flowering of the Khmer empire has been handed over to the National Museum of Cambodia by retired Thai-based collector Douglas Latchford.
The intricately cast bronze, dating from between 1080-1181, is the only one of its kind ever found.
“This particular one is also depicted in the stone relief on the south wall of the Bayon temple,” said Latchford, who has been collecting Khmer and Indian art for the past 50 years.
“It’s a beautiful piece and the only boat prow of its kind ever found,” said the Thailand-based collector, who is now in his 80s but shows no sign of diminishment in his enthusiasm for art.
Latchford was in Phnom Penh over the weekend to present his bronze to the National Museum and to launch his new book Khmer Bronzes: New Interpretations of the Past, his third volume written with co-author Emma C Bunker.
It’s the fifth piece of important Khmer art that Latchford has presented to the museum, and he also raised funds to install a modern lighting system in the galleries last year.
“When I was younger I had the opportunity, travelling in and out of Cambodia, to study Khmer history as well as Khmer sculpture,” said Latchford, who is probably the world’s premier collector of art from that period. “I have a passion for Asian art, especially for ancient Khmer sculpture and jewellery.”
Secretary of State at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts Chuch Poeurn welcomed the donation, saying that the prow’s beauty demonstrated the talents of Cambodian ancestors in metal work.
He appealed for more collectors to return ancient objects to the museum to help Cambodians research and document their history for a younger generation.
The book Khmer Bronzes contained many items from the National Museum in its pages and would help lure tourists to Cambodia to see the artifacts for themselves, he said.
Museum director Oun Palline said that within the past 10 years, the National Museum had received 306 objects donated by foreign collectors, while 1600 items had been given by Cambodian residents.
“We have found a noticeable increase of delivery of artifacts by Cambodians, government leaders and state institutions,” she said. “In the near future, the National Museum plans to organise a temporary exhibition displaying all the artistic objects it has received.”