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On the Way to the Humboldt Forum: The restoration of more than 40 meters of the Angkor Wat reliefs


The almost forgotten casts of the magnificent reliefs from the Cambodian temple complex Angkor Wat are currently being fully restored by the Museum für Asiatische Kunst at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. With the new conception of the exhibition design for the Humboldt Forum, the objects are again the subject of attention for curators and designers. In a major restoration campaign led by the Staatliche Museen, the reliefs will be transferred to a new hanging system and chips, fractures and losses will be refitted or infilled.

Angkor Wat, the most magnificent example of Khmer architecture, was created in the middle of the 12th century by order of King Suryavarman II, who was for a while, alongside the Chinese Emperor, one of the most powerful rulers in Asia. The reliefs depict legends and tell of the exploits of their protagonists, Krishna and Rama as the incarnation of Vishnu, the god with which Suryavarman identified.

The story of the casts is as adventurous as the depictions in the reliefs are breathtakingly beautiful. The casts, acquired at the beginning of the 20th century, were considered lost with the destruction of large portions of the collection in the Indian department of the old Ethnographic Museum during World War II. In the early 1980s, 442 paper molds were serendipitously rediscovered in the Staatliche Museen's Gipsformerei. Some 100 cohesive scenes were selected and new casts produced. These were then painted in color, according to historical models, and incorporated into the Southeast Asian gallery of the former Museum for Indian Art. The objects were removed from the permanent exhibition of the Dahlem Museum in 1997, during the museum's renovation.