region had long been a crossroads of cultural influences. During the reign of the Indian emperor Ashoka (3rd century ), the region became the scene of intensive Buddhist missionary activity. And in the 1st century , 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.
was a style of Buddhist visual art that flourished in the trading and pilgrimage centre of Mathura, , India, from the 2nd century to the 12th century Its most distinctive contributions were made during the Kushān and Gupta periods (1st–6th century ). 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 (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 (protuberance on the top of the head) indicated by a tiered spiral; a round smiling face; the right arm raised in (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 Tīrthaṅkaras, 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 , Sūrya.
The female figures at Mathura, carved in 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 (female nature deity) tradition. As auspicious emblems of fertility and abundance they commanded a popular appeal that persisted with the rise of Buddhism.