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Simon Ray: Indian & Islamic Works of Art

KNEELING ATLANTES
Gandhara
2nd/3rd century
Height: 33 cm
Width: 26 cm
Depth: 7.3 cm

A finely carved dark grey polished schist sculpture of a kneeling Atlantes, loosely based on the Greek god Atlas.

He sits with his left leg crossed under him, upon which his arm loosely rests. A dhoti like garment covers his thigh and hangs down in folds between his legs. His right leg is bent fully at the knee with the foot firmly planted on the ground. His arm, bent at the elbow hangs over his knee, and traces of his wings can be seen behind. The muscles in both his calves and upper arms are pronounced and extenuate his powerful and heroic torso, uncovered and unadorned. His head sits low and he has turned to his left as if his eye has been caught by something. His hair flows in thick wavy lines onto his shoulders, and he has a thick beard which all but hides his mouth. The large eyes are wide open and stare into the distance. He has strong Hellenistic facial features

According to Pratapaditya Pal, though atlantes figures are often loosely identified as “Atlas”, they should be distinguished from individual in classical mythology who was ordered to support the heavens on his shoulders, and is often thus depicted on temple pillars or narrative panels.

The crucial iconographic difference is the Atlas is never provided with wings and usually supports a globe with both hands. The Gandharan equivalent rarely uses both arms and is almost always winged. In addition, atlantes are seldom solitary but mostly seen in groups. However, the atlantes share with Atlas the common position of supporting structures in temple sculpture. As such they tended to act in a similar way as yakshas, which to all intents and purposes, is what they are. 1


References:
1. Pratapaditya Pal, Asian Art at the Norton Simon Museum, Vol. 1: Art from the Indian Subcontinent, 2003, pp.68-69, no. 35, where Pal illustrates and discusses a Gandharan “Winged Figure” with similar eyes. According to Pal, 2003, p.68, Alfred Foucher was the first to suggest that the muscular figures are yakshas in the guise of classical atlantes, having borrowed the wings from Victory. (Alfred Foucher, L’art gréco-bouddhique du Gandhara, 1905-1951, vol. 1, p. 208.)

Literature:
Isao Kurita, Gandharan Art II, The World of the Buddha, 2003, pp. 155-157,
W. Zwalf, A Catalogue of the Gandhara Sculpture in the British Museum, 1996, vol. 1, pp.259-260, no. 360; vol. II, p. 208, pl. 360.

all text & images Simon Ray: Indian & Islamic Works of Art

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