Monday, 5 September 2011

Sculpture: Gandhara and Mathura Schools of Art

Reproduced from: 

Gandhara art,  style of Buddhist visual art developed in what is now northwestern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan between the 1st century bce and the 7th century ce. The style, of Greco-Roman origin,  flourished largely during the Kushan dynasty and was contemporaneous with another school of Kushan art at Mathura.

Gandhara region had long been a crossroads of cultural influences. During the reign of the Indian emperor Ashoka (3rd century bce), the region became the scene of intensive Buddhist missionary activity. And in the 1st century ce, rulers of the Kushan empire, maintained contacts with Rome. In its interpretation of Buddhist legends, the Gandhara school incorporated many motifs and techniques from Classical Roman art, including vine scrolls, cherubs bearing garlands, tritons, and centaurs. The basic iconography, however, remained Indian.

The materials used for Gandhara sculpture were green phyllite and gray-blue mica schist, and stucco. The sculptures were originally painted and gilded. The Gandhara school drew upon the anthropomorphic traditions of Roman religionand represented the Buddha with a youthful Apollo-like face, dressed in garments resembling those seen on Roman imperial statues. The Gandhara depiction of the seated Buddha was less successful.

The schools of Gandhara and Mathura each independently evolved its own characteristic depiction of the Buddha about the 1st century ce. Nonetheless the schools influenced each other, and the general trend was away from a naturalistic conception and toward a more idealized, abstract image. 

Mathurā art,  was a style of Buddhist visual art that flourished in the trading and pilgrimage centre of Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, India, from the 2nd century bc to the 12th century ad. Its most distinctive contributions were made during the Kushān and Gupta periods (1st–6th century ad). The material used was the spotted red sandstone from the nearby Sīkri quarries. The fact that these statues are found widely distributed over north central India, attest to Mathurā’s importance as an exporter of sculpture.

The Mathurā images are related to the earlier yaka (male nature deity) figures, a resemblance particularly evident in the colossal standing Buddha images of the early Kushān period. In these, and in the more representative seated Buddhas, the overall effect is one of enormous energy. The shoulders are broad, the chest swells, and the legs are firmly planted with feet spaced apart. Other characteristics are the shaven head; the uṣṇīa (protuberance on the top of the head) indicated by a tiered spiral; a round smiling face; the right arm raised in abhaya-mudrā (gesture of reassurance); the left arm akimbo or resting on the thigh; the drapery closely molding the body and arranged in folds over the left arm, leaving the right shoulder bare; and the presence of the lion throne rather than the lotus throne. Later, the hair began to be treated as a series of short flat spirals lying close to the head, the type that came to be the standard representation throughout the Buddhist world.

Jaina and Hindu images of the period are carved in the same style, and the images of the Jaina Tīrthakaras, or saints, are difficult to distinguish from contemporary images of the Buddha, except by reference to iconography. 

The dynastic portraits produced by the Mathurā workshops are of special interest. These rigidly frontal figures of Kushān kings are dressed in Central Asian fashion, with belted tunic, high boots, and conical cap, a style of dress also used for representations of the Hindu sun god, Sūrya.

The female figures at Mathura, carved in high relief on the pillars and gateways of both Buddhist and Jaina monuments, are frankly sensuous in their appeal. These delightful nude or seminude figures are shown in a variety of toilet (shringar) scenes or in association with trees, indicating their continuance of the yakī (female nature deity) tradition. As auspicious emblems of fertility and abundance they commanded a popular appeal that persisted with the rise of Buddhism.


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  2. STUTI VERMA 9th standard3 July 2012 at 15:32

    It was really easy to understand the matter due to the easy language.

  3. Thankyou for your commendation Stuti. You may find the other articles under the label of culture also an interesting read.

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