The Goddess Uma

Uma
Cambodia, 10th century
Sandstone
Gift of Arthur M. Sackler
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery S1987.909

The Power of the Feminine
Khmer artists depicted the goddess Uma with regal stability. Here, she stands facing fully forward, her body neither twisting nor bending. Her long skirt (sampot) creates a strong columnar base. At the same time, her bare chest, pinched waist, and broad hips emphasize her femininity and fertility. Although the artists left upper bodies bare—as was conventional in Khmer dress—look for intricate designs on the headdress and belt. These patterns are inspired by nature, including leaves and flowers.

Over time, artists modified details of sculptural style, including bodily proportions, facial features, ornaments, and pleats in clothing. Uma’s heavy breasts and straight brow, and the skirt’s wide upper flap, suggest a date of circa 900–925 for this sculpture.

Historical period(s)
Angkor period, 10th century
Medium
Sandstone
Dimensions
H x W x D: 124.2 x 37.5 x 24.3 cm (48 7/8 x 14 3/4 x 9 9/16 in)
Geography
Cambodia
Credit Line
Gift of Arthur M. Sackler
Collection
Arthur M. Sackler Collection
Accession Number
S1987.909
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Sculpture, Stone
Type

Hindu sculpture

Keywords
Angkor period (802 - 1431), Cambodia, Hinduism, Uma
Provenance

?-at least 1972
Probably William H. Wolff, Inc., method of acquisition unknown [1]

From at least 1972-1987
Arthur M. Sackler (1913-1987), probably purchased from William H. Wolff, Inc. [2]

From 1987
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, gift of Arthur M. Sackler [2]

Notes:
[1] See the “Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Gift Inventory,” number 72.11.13, copy in object file. This collection number suggests that Sackler acquired the object in 1972.
Arthur M. Sackler likely purchased from William H. Wolff, Inc., see document written on William H. Wolff letterhead, “Dr. Sackler Selection” (undated), stock number 02/343, where an object is described as “White [s]andstone Khmer UMA 11th [cent.],” copy in object file.

[2] See note 1.

[3] Pursuant to the agreement between Arthur M. Sackler and the Smithsonian Institution, dated July 28, 1982, legal title of the donated objects was transferred to the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery on September 11, 1987.

Research Completed October 17, 2022

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

William H. Wolff, Inc. 1906-1991
Dr. Arthur M. Sackler 1913-1987

Description

Uma
Cambodia, 10th century
Sandstone
Gift of Arthur M. Sackler
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery S1987.909

The Power of the Feminine
Khmer artists depicted the goddess Uma with regal stability. Here, she stands facing fully forward, her body neither twisting nor bending. Her long skirt (sampot) creates a strong columnar base. At the same time, her bare chest, pinched waist, and broad hips emphasize her femininity and fertility. Although the artists left upper bodies bare—as was conventional in Khmer dress—look for intricate designs on the headdress and belt. These patterns are inspired by nature, including leaves and flowers.

Over time, artists modified details of sculptural style, including bodily proportions, facial features, ornaments, and pleats in clothing. Uma’s heavy breasts and straight brow, and the skirt’s wide upper flap, suggest a date of circa 900–925 for this sculpture.

Label

Khmer artists depicted the Hindu goddess Uma with regal stability. Here, she stands facing fully forward, her body neither twisting nor bending. Her long skirt (sampot) creates a strong columnar base. At the same time, her bare chest, pinched waist, and broad hips emphasize her femininity and fertility. Although the artists left upper bodies bare--as was conventional in Khmer dress--they carved intricate designs on the headdress and belt. These patterns, including leaves and flowers, are inspired by nature.

Uma's heavy breasts, straight brow, diadem terminating in a fluid double bow at the back of the head, and the skirt's wide upper flap, suggest a date of circa 900-925 for the sculpture. In this period the Khmer king Yashovarman I built a pyramidal, mountain-shaped temple called Phnom Bakheng. Relief carvings of similar female figures can still be found on the temple walls. These images also supply important information that is missing in the sculpture--the arms. In the Bakheng reliefs, the goddesses have one arm bent at the elbow, the other extended down at the side with a lotus bud in hand. Uma's arms may have been in a similar position. The small protrusion on the side of Uma's proper left thigh therefore would have served as support for her left wrist.

Published References
  • Sculpture of Angkor and Ancient Cambodia: Millennium of Glory. Exh. cat. Washington. .
  • et al. Asian Art in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery: The Inaugural Gift. Washington, 1987. cat. 31, pp. 68-69.
  • Emma C. Bunker, Douglas Latchford. Adoration and Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art., 1st ed. Chicago. pp. 124-5.
  • Ideals of Beauty: Asian and American Art in the Freer and Sackler Galleries. Thames and Hudson World of Art London and Washington, 2010. pp. 170-171.
Collection Area(s)
Southeast Asian Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
F|S Southeast Asia
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