A New Kouros: The Influence of Greek Art on Gandharan Statues

The Gandhara art refers to the artistic production, mainly represented by reliefs in stone or clay, documented in the Northwest of the Indian subcontinent, northern Pakistan, and in Afghanistan, starting from the Ist Century BC till the 4th -5th Century AD. This production is characterized by being almost exclusively related to the Buddhist religion: Gandhara reliefs were in fact part of Buddhist holy monuments, such as stūpas or vihāras.

The style and iconography refers to a competition of elements of different traditions: Indian, Iranian and Hellenistic. Greco-Buddhist art is the artistic manifestation of Greco-Buddhism, a cultural syncretism between the Classical Greek culture and Buddhism, which developed over a period of close to 1000 years in Central Asia, between the conquests of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC and the Islamic conquests of the 7th century AD.  As soon as Alexander the Great invaded India to form the Indo-Greek kingdom, a fusion of Hellenistic and Buddhist elements started to appear, encouraged by the benevolence of the Greek kings towards Buddhism. Greco-Buddhist art is characterized by the strong idealistic realism of Hellenistic art and the first representations of the Buddha in human form, which have helped define the artistic, particularly sculptural, canon for Buddhist art throughout the Asian continent up to the present. It is also a unique example of cultural syncretism between eastern and western traditions, which has been achieved by no other art to such a degree.

Between the 2nd century BC and the 1st AD the first anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha were produced. These types of representation had been completely absent from the previous stages of Buddhist art.The anthropomorphic image of the Buddha immediately reached a very high level of sculptural sophistication, inspired by the style and the sense of naturalism of Hellenistic sculpture and art.  Many of the stylistic elements present in the representations of the Buddha can be connected with the influence of Greek art.

One of the characteristics of this new art, strongly influenced by Greek aesthetic and culture, is the himation, the typical Greek draped robe covering both of the Buddha’s shoulders. The pose of Contrapposto, a sculptural scheme first propagated by the ancient Greeks, is visible in many example of Gandhara standing statues of Buddha. The fine and naturalistic rendering of the Buddha’s facial features and hairstyle bear the classical features of Greek-inspired Gandhara sculptures.

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By Francesca,

  Filed under: Decorative Techniques, Gandhara, India & Bactria, Imagery & Symbolism   Tags: , , ,
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