Ancient Region of Gandhara
Circa 2nd/3rd century, Kushan Period
27 3/4 in. (70.5 cm.)
Provenance: Private collection of a European diplomat, acquired in Paris between the 1960's and 1980's.
The oceans will recede, sins of attachment and desire will run rampant, and dharma will be all but forgotten. Scripture states this is the time when Maitreya will leave the heavenly realm of Tushita and make his appearance on the physical realm of earth (Jambudvipa) to restore the path of enlightenment. Established as the Bodhisattva of the future, he goes by many names; Jampa in Tibet, Maithree in Sinhala, Metteyya in Pali, Di-Lac in Vietnamese, and Maitreya in Sanskrit (literally translating to loving-kindness).
The syncretic amalgamation of elements as diverse as those prevailing in the immense region of Central Asia is astounding. For this reason the art of the areas lying to the north-west of India is fascinating but also exceptionally complex. The vast territories stretching from the Ganges to the north of the Oxus were at all times the scene of invasions and migrations from north and west. It was a land where civilizations mingled, contributing customs, beliefs and ritual, an individual style, and the capacity for adaptation or retreat in the face of established cultures. This region, unified under the Kushan dynasty during the first centuries of the Christian era, became the centre for the flowering of a new art, comprising many outside elements, but nevertheless homogenous. Called at first Greco- or Romano-Buddhist, and afterwards Gandharan, this art developed subject to changing sites and conditions. Fundamentally Buddhist, it spread to far countries wherever the religion was established and its importance and influence were considerable. At the same time in the Ganges region of Mathura, also under Kushan rule, Indian art was evolving on its own lines, preserving, even accentuating, the ancient aesthetic and iconographic traditions. The two styles, however were not strangers to one another; although they developed independently, many exchanges took place. Whereas the Kushan style of Mathura was only one characteristic phase in the evolution of Indian art, the Kushan style that developed further west at Gandhara combined the features of Indian art with many others from abroad. This very fine example of Gandharan sculpture depicts Maitreya (the future Buddha), who can be identified by the lotiform water pot he holds in his left hand. At first glance, one can see the Greco-Roman influence in the manner his dhoti drapes beneath his waist, but what isn’t so obvious is that in Gandharan depictions of Buddhist subjects the right shoulder is always bare, whereas in the Indian aesthetic examples both shoulders are usually covered by the monastic robe. Also typical of this inherited style is the treatment of the future Buddha’s hair, which later in more pure Indian examples will resemble snail shell curls, rather than the flowing locks in this example. Although heavily influenced by the classic methods, these Gandharan artists created a unique and beautiful sculptural style that spread exponentially influencing the style of regions later on such as Kashmir, and other parts of India.