The ancient Khmers used varied materials for sculpture, including:
stone, wood and stucco. Each material reflects a supreme knowledge
of carving with the movement, beauty and decor of sculptures dependent
on the sculptors' creativity.
Khmer sculpture is divided into freestanding,
bas-relief, and high-relief categories. Two kinds of stone were
used, schist and sandstone (black, red, grey, and white). Most of
the religious sculpture was carved in sandstone. There are virtually
no traces left today of the techniques and tools used.
The technique for maintaining the equilibrium
of stone sculptures differed according to the style. In the pre-Angkorian
period (VIth-VIIIth centuries), the sculptors used support props
like the horseshoe arc. A good example is the Visnu with four arms
(no. 1). They also used the lower edges of the ‘sampot’
(skirt) and tenons projecting from the base for stability. In the
Angkor period (IXth-XIIIth centuries), supports were abandoned.
The ancient Khmers left many masterpieces of Brahmanist and Buddhist
divinities for their religious practices. In this sense, Khmer ‘art’
consists of images that are expressions of religious beliefs.
The principle figures of Hinduism in Khmer art
are: Brahma, Visnu, and Siva (these gods make up the Brahmanic trinity);
the incarnations of Visnu: Krsna, Rama, Balarama, & etc.; Harihara
(a syncretist image of Visnu and Siva) and other secondary figures
such as Garuda (the mount of Visnu), Nandin (the mount of Siva)
and mythological birds.
In Buddhism, the main image is the figure of Buddha
and the numerous stories connected with his life (for the Lesser
Vehicle), and the Bodhisattva Lokesvara and Prajnaparamita (for
the Greater Vehicle).
As part of the works of art cited above, there are many bas-reliefs,
which depict different stories of the gods, as well as historic
events and the ordinary of lives of the people. Most of these are
related to architectural decor (lintels, pediments) and bas-reliefs
on the walls of temples.