Was This Statue in the Denver Art Museum's Collection Originally Stolen From Nepal?

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DENVER, COLORADO February 5, 2021 (5280): A piece in the Denver Art Museum’s Asian collection is causing controversy amongst art historians and concerned citizens of Nepal. The object in question is a 30-and-three-quarter-inch-tall tablet depicting Shiva, a revered Hindu Deity, and his wife Parvati, along with their children and other attendants. Nepalese Hindus refer to images of the embracing couple as Uma-Mahesvara; the museum curator calls it “Uma-Maheshvaramurti.” According to the museum’s website, Dr. and Mrs. Edwin F. Ullman gifted the piece to the museum in 1980. The tablet was part of Ullman’s parents’ collection–according to the museum, the couple purchased it from Sundaram Works of Art and Handicrafts, a shop in New Delhi, India, in 1968. Kristy Bassuener, director of communications and public affairs for the museum, told 5280 that the museum does not have any further facts to share about the piece prior to that date.

Research conducted by other parties may fill in that gap. “Stolen Images of Nepal”–a book by Lain Singh Bangdel, a leading historian of Nepalese art–compiles photos taken of artwork, especially statues of Deities, found in Nepal’s Valley of Kathmandu in the early 1950s. Each of the items pictured in the book subsequently disappeared from Nepal. On page 77 of the book is a photo of the Uma-Mahesvara in Gahiti, a neighborhood in the historical city of Patan in Nepal. According to Bangdel, the limestone piece–apparently identical to what the museum is holding–was made in the 10th century and stolen from Gahiti in the mid-1960s.

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