Questions about the authenticity of a set of Jayavarman VII-era
gold royal regalia recently donated to Cambodia’s
NationalMuseum have enraged experts and
collectors who say this kind of “mudslinging” will deter private collectors
from returning Cambodian artifacts to the Kingdom.
“It is extremely off-putting,” said Douglas Latchford, the
Bangkok-based collector who donated the gold to the NationalMuseum.
“I would like to donate more pieces back and I know others who want to, but
when you hear comments like this you start thinking ‘Why bother?’”
Both government and museum officials have publicly raised
questions about the provenance – the history of an artifact which proves it is
genuine not fake – of the recent donation.
When contacted, the museum official who had made the
allegations declined to comment on the issue saying: “I don’t want to talk
about it. It is boring.”
In 2004, Latchford donated a silver bowl to the museum. The
provenance was publicly questioned by the same museum official in a newspaper
article, but the official later retracted his claims.
“Making allegations like this is detrimental to the country
and to the museum,” said Latchford. “Why would one give something back to risk
having it criticized by someone who doesn’t understand? It is a great shame for
The museum’s director, Hab Touch, said provenance is a
tricky issue in the field of Cambodian antiquities. The country’s many years of
civil strife made recordkeeping difficult and many objects – including those in
the museum’s possession – lack the documents they need to prove their authenticity.
The gold donated by Latchford lacks a complete provenance.
It was bought by him some 25 years ago from a private collector in Europe.
Emmy Bunker, an expert in Asian gold who co-authored a
book on the subject with Latchford, said she was sure the items donated by
Latchford were genuine.
“The royal regalia obviously belonged to someone of great
rank and can in no way be fake, as there is nothing comparable known for the
fakers to base the pieces on,” she said.
Bunker argued that without private collectors Cambodia would
have lost much of its gold heritage as it would have been melted down.
“The museum itself
had a few lovely pieces that were stolen and disappeared forever during years of
turmoil in the 70s and 80s,” she said.