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GANDHARAN HEAD OF BUDDHA
3rd to 4th Century
Height 42 cm Width 21 cm (16.75 x 8.5 in)
The style of this sculpture points to its having been carved in the mature period of the 3rd to the 4th centuries when there was a smooth transition in the planes of the face which were longer and often oval in shape.
Gandhara was the name for the Peshawar valley in what is now Pakistan and the name Gandhara is found in Vedic Sanskrit writing of the 2nd century BC. However the term Gandhara is also used to describe a style of sculpture which is found over a larger area which encompasses parts of the Hindu Kush, Afghanistan and Peshawar in Pakistan.
The area was very important because of its geographical location; the rivers Kabul and Swat with their many tributaries joined and flowed together with further tributaries and rivers into the Indus. The wide valleys surrounding these waterways together with their location on the edge of the monsoon has supported, since pre-historic times, substantial agricultural communities and urban centres. This large area has been transited by many trade routes; through the mountain ranges of the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas to India in the South, the east-west route through the Hindu Kush, and the northern route along the Swat.
Because of this geographical importance it was invaded numerous times including by the Iranian Achaemenid empire which was itself conquered by Alexander the Great in the 4th century B.C. Although Alexander had to abandon his advance in this area and it was absorbed into the earliest Indian empire (324-187 BC) there remained Greek settlers and rulers in parts of Gandhara until the beginning of the first century. (Numismatic evidence)
The Buddhist expression of Gandharan art is the most well known and dates from the 1st century BC through the next 500 to 600 years and although scholars are still debating the importance of various influences in the area which was conquered many times, it is accepted that there is an obvious Graeco-Roman aspect to the sculpture. Of undoubted importance to the increasing popularity of Buddhism in the area and a probable influence on its style of art was the patronage of the Indo-Greek king Menander who established an Empire in the 2nd century BC and may even have been a convert (his fascination with the cult is known and he is remembered in Buddhist literature as having discussions with the Buddhist sage Nagasena). Over the next few hundred years Buddhism was increasingly adopted in the area and it grew to become a Holy Land with religious foundations and places of pilgrimage.
Provenance: an old private collection in France
Bibliography: A Catalogue of the Gandharan Sculpture in the British Museum by W. Zwalf Vol.II Plates 40 to 43
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