For decades, it has been the star of the Indian and Southeast Asian collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA): a mammoth sandstone statue of the Hindu boy god Krishna, serenely hoisting a mountain to shelter villagers from a deluge of rain unleashed by a vengeful deity.
Carved around AD600 for veneration in a manmade cave at the mountain of Phnom Da in southern Cambodia, Krishna Lifting Mount Govardhan is heralded as one of the first major sculptures in Khmer civilisation, says Sonya Rhie Mace, the museum’s curator of Indian and Southeast Asian art. Acquired by the CMA in 1973, it reflects influences imported from India as well as “an explosion of artistic inspiration and skill” in Cambodia before the centre of creativity shifted to the northwest in the Angkor period, she says.
Yet over the last four years, the Krishna has been radically transformed. Most strikingly, it no longer stands securely on two feet: in a restoration guided by intensive research and the latest scanning and 3D modelling technology, the sculpture has been shorn of a thigh, two calves and feet that had been appended in a painstaking yet evidently misguided 1978-79 reconstruction effort.