Apart from their damaged limbs, these 1,000-year-old Cambodian sculptures survive in excellent condition, and the fact that they have remained together makes them rare.
The Hindu deity Shiva (detail), 1000–1100. Cambodia. One of a pair; sandstone. The Avery Brundage Collection, B66S2.
It was typical for artists of this period to contrast large smooth surfaces with highly textured areas. In addition to the jewelry, look at the pleats carved into their lower garments. These figures also reflect a change from the formal way deities had been portrayed earlier, when their might and godly distance from mortals was emphasized. Instead, here they appear younger and more accessible, and have a sense of tenderness. You may be reminded of ancient Greek deities like Apollo or Aphrodite, whose physical beauty and approachability are part of what attract us to them.
Shiva has powerful creative and destructive capabilities. He’s associated with fertility but also with destruction. Shiva was usually the primary deity worshipped in the great temples of ancient Cambodia. His wife, Parvati, who was associated with peaceful stability, was worshipped as a deity in her own right. Pairing them suggests the unity and wholeness of the principles they represent.
The Hindu deities Shiva and Parvati, 1000–1100. Cambodia. Sandstone. The Avery Brundage Collection, B66S2 and B66S3.
These statues would have been in the inner sanctuary of a Hindu temple, a huge stone complex built up like a step pyramid, with the sanctuary at the top. Images of Shiva acting out his power in the world might be found on the outside of an ancient Cambodian temple, but inside the temple the deity would be shown standing upright and still, conveying a sense of resolute calm to all who gazed upon him.