12th-Century Pilaster Returned by the Art Institute of Chicago to Thailand’s Phanom Rung Temple

A fragment of a pilaster with the Hindu diety Krishna lifting Mount Govardhana is being returned to Thailand by the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC). The return is the result of more thorough provenance research within the museum’s holdings, the museum said in a statement.

The 12th-century fragment of a pilaster, a rectangular architectural column in the side of a doorframe, was previously believed to have originated in Cambodia. New research, however, identified that the object was once housed in the Phanom Rung temple in northeast Thailand.

The museum had previously returned another object—the Vishnu lintel—to the same temple in the 1988. Since its return, the lintel was restored to the structure.

“This act serves as a model for ethical collecting practices and strengthens the bonds of cultural respect and collaboration between Thailand and the Art Institute of Chicago,” said Phnombootra Chandrajoti, director-general of the Fine Arts Department, the Kingdom of Thailand, in a statement. “This valuable artifact is from one of the most significant archeological sites in Thailand and we are glad it is returning to its motherland.”

The AIC is one such institution with a dedicated provenance team. The subject of provenance has come to the forefront as museums grapple with the return of questionably acquired artifacts.

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