Schist standing Buddha
late 2nd- early 3rd century AD

Gallery 21, Ground Floor,
Indian Gallery

 


Focus on the Object

Materials & Style

This sculpture was carved in Gandhara (modern Pakistan) in the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD. Early Buddhas from Gandhara, like this one, were made from grey schist (a local stone) and originally their sculptors took Graeco-Roman depictions of Apollo as their model. This is reflected in the drapery of the monk’s robe worn by the Buddha which, rather like a toga, is heavy and classical and gives rise to light and shadow. Originally Indian sculptors only represented the Buddha in symbolic form rather than as a human, but this changed around the 1st century AD.

Look closely and you will see that the Buddha is sculpted almost in the round. Notice also the sparkling quality of the beautiful grey stone, the deep lines incised into the palm of the right hand which is raised and reveals some of the undergarment. Originally sculptures like this would have been gilded and coloured.


Iconography


This sculpture exhibits the standard iconography of the Buddha: a mole or whorl of hair in the centre of the forehead and the bun on the top of the head. The whorl of hair is one of the 84 marks of Buddhahood and the bun shows that the Buddha came from the warrior caste. Members of this caste did not cut their hair, choosing instead to wear it in a bun underneath their turbans. The hands are now missing, but would have been in the following positions: the right hand in the abhaya mudra, the gesture of fearlessness and granting protection, the left holding the folds of his robe. The halo is of Middle-Eastern origin and was an accepted sign of divinity and kingship in India and Central Asia.