Sunday, December 27, 2020

Roman influence in Buddhist art

This small bronze Buddha is probably one of the earliest iconic representations of Shakyamuni from Gandhara. He sits in a yogic posture holding his right hand in abhaya mudra (a gesture of approachability). His unusual halo has serrations that indicate radiating light. His hairstyle, the form of his robes, and the treatment of the figure reflect stylistic contacts with the classical traditions of the West. This Buddha shows closer affinities to Roman sculpture than any other surviving Gandharan bronze. - Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Buddhism developed as early as the 6th century BCE. But, before the late 1st to early 2nd century CE, the Buddha was represented by symbols and not in human form.  In this early human incarnation of the Buddha, he is shown with a mustache, considered a symbol of princely status.  This aspect, found only on very early depictions of the Buddha, was not included when representations of the Buddha in a variety of postures with varying gestures were codified in the 4th century CE. The radiant halo is thought to be unique to this sculpture.  Some scholars have suggested that it is based upon depictions of the Roman emperor Nero who liked to be portrayed as Helios, the Sun God, with a radiant crown.  Depictions of Solar Apollo in Roman art from the same period also include the radiant crown of Helios.

Seated Buddha, early 2nd century CE, ancient Gandhara (modern day Pakistan) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Roman mosaic from El Djem, Tunisia depicting Solar Apollo with the radiant halo of Helios, late 2nd century CE, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons contributor Mathiarex.

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