The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York announced on Wednesday that it will return a 10th-century sculpture of a Hindu deity to the government of Nepal. Following a review of its provenance, researchers determined there were gaps in its ownership.
The 13-inch square relief sculpture depicts Shiva at the center flanked by two disciples. The religious antiquity once resided in a shrine in Kathmandu called the Kankeswari Temple (Kanga-Ajima). After being looted from the region by an unknown source roughly 50 years ago, it eventually came into the hands of a private collector, who gifted the artifact to the museum in 1995.
“The museum is committed to the responsible acquisition of archaeological art, and applies rigorous provenance standards both to new acquisitions and the study of works long in its collection,” the Met said in a statement.
Nepalese government officials will receive the piece on behalf of the country. “The warm cooperation we have received from the museum has deeply contributed to Nepal’s national efforts to recover and reinstate its lost artifacts,” acting Consul General Bishnu Prasad Gautam of Nepal said in a statement.
The restitution of the Shiva sculpture is the third item the Met has repatriated to the country from its permanent collection of 200 Nepali objects. Among those objects, the museum returned a 12th century stele of Uma Mahesvara (Shiva and Parvati) and a 10th century sculpture of Buddha, both in 2018.
Other institutions in the U.S. have also repatriated Nepali artifacts to the country this year. Earlier this month, the Denver Art Museum returned a 10th century statue to Nepal’s embassy in Washington D.C. In March, the Dallas Museum of Art returned a statue of conjoined deities Lakshmi-Narayana that was looted from a Kathmandu Valley temple in 1984. Experts of the region’s cultural heritage estimate that around half of its historic cultural property has been looted since Nepal’s borders opened to international travelers in 1951.
Last week, activist groups that track looted Nepali cultural property identified two ancient sculptures dating from the 14th to 17th centuries at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York. They are now calling on the museum to return the artifacts.
“Most of these objects were stolen and have gone through traders and auction houses,” Roshan Mishra, member of the Nepal Heritage Recovery Campaign, told the New York Times. “We have so many objects like the Shiva statue on our list. One by one, they will end up returning.”