The Khmer Athlete was commissioned by emperor Jayavarman IV (r. 914 – 928) for his new capital at Koh Ker 80 miles north of Angkor. Koh Ker sculptures are among the great masterpieces of Khmer art. The impressive size and quality of the figure reflects the prestige and importance of the ruler who commissioned it as well of the skill of his craftsmen. The Athlete’s pose derives from Cambodian dance postures which often depicted Hindu epics and mythology. These dances have been a constant feature in the country’s long history. The imposing stance of this figure indicates that it was more significant than a mere temple guardian. Indeed, the Athlete would have been a major mythological figure, instantly recognizable to the Khmer elite of the day and this depiction stands as one of the great achievements of Khmer art.
-Sotheby’s press release, March 2011.