Indo-Greek Art and Architecture–Gandhara, Mathura and Amaravati Schools
Cultural stonework in India – in the form of primitive cupule art– dates back to the era of prehistoric art of the Lower Paleolithic, around 700,000 BCE – see Bhimbetka Petroglyphs (Auditorium Cave and Daraki-Chattan Rock Shelter, Madhya Pradesh).
By the time of the Bronze Age, sculpture was already the predominant form of artistic expression throughout the Indian subcontinent, even though mural painting was also popular.
Sculpture was used mainly as a form of religious art to illustrate the principles of Hinduism, Buddhism, or Jainism. The female nude in particular was used to depict the numerous attributes of the gods, for which it was often endowed with multiples heads and arms.
There was certainly no tradition of individuality in Indian sculpture: instead, figures were conceived of as symbols of eternal values.
In simple terms, one can say that – historically – Indian sculptors have focused not on three-dimensional volume and fullness, but on linear character – that is to say, the figure is designed on the basis of its outline, and is typically graceful and slender.
The origin of plastic art in India dates back to the northwestern Indus valley civilization, which was noted primarily for its terracotta sculpture – mainly small figurines – but also for the pioneering bronze sculpture of the Harappan Culture. Other important milestones in the history of sculptureinclude: the Buddhist Pillars of Ashoka of the Mauryan period, with their wonderful carved capitals (3rd century BCE); the figurative Greco-Buddhist sculpture of the Gandhara and Mathura schools, and the Hindu art of the Gupta period (1st-6th century CE).
Mathura School of art
- At Sanchi, Barhut or Gaya, Buddha was never depicted in a human form but was represented only as a symbol of either two footprints or wheel.
- Artisans from Mathura initially continued the Mauryan sculptural forms of the Yaksha and Yakshi, until a human image of Buddha appeared, which was independent of other schools of art, but later influenced by the Gandhara School.
- The representations of the Buddha in Mathura, in central northern India, are generally dated slightly later than those of Gandhara.
Period and Center of Production
- Mathura School of art is purely indigenous style. Mathura art developed during post Maurya peiod (mainly during Shunga period) and reached its peak during the Gupta period (AD 325 to 600).
- The traditional centre, Mathura, remained the main art production site whereas Sarnath and Kosambialso emerged as important centres of art production. Spotted red sandstone has been used in this school.
Type of Sculpture:
- The Mathura School of Art, noted for its vitality and assimilative character, was a result of the religious zeal of Brahmanism, Jainism and Buddhism. Images of Vaishnava and Shaiva faiths are also found at Mathura but Buddhist images are found in large numbers. The images of Vishnu and Shiva are represented by their weapons. Images of the Buddha, Yakshas, Yakshinis, Shaivite and Vaishnavite deities and portrait statues are profusely sculpted.
- Theme may vary from Buddhist to Brahmanical to sometimes secular. Several Brahmanical Deities were first crystallized by this school.
- In these sculptures, Buddha was depicted as Human and the main theme was Buddha and Bodhisattavas. Both sitting and standing posture of Buddha’s statues were carved out in the Mathura school. Buddha image at Mathura is modelled on the lines of earlier Yaksha images whereas in Gandhara it has Hellenistic features.
A Bodhisattva, 2nd century, Mathura
- The Jina Image and Indigenous style of Buddhas image was a remarkable features of Mathura art. The Sarvatobhadrika image of 4 jain Jinas standing back to back belongs to the Mathura school.
- The Standing Buddhas of the Sravasthi ,Sarnath and Kausambhi belong to the Mathura School.
Standing Buddha, Sarnath
- The sitting Buddha of Mathura School is in padmasana and soles of the feet have been decorated with Tri ratna and Dharmachakra signs.
Buddha attended by 2 Bodhisattvas. Mathura, 2nd century CE
- The presences of the two attendants by the side of Buddha who hold Chanwars is a feature of the Mathura school and this figure has been later inspired the images of Indian Deities.
- The art of Mathura features frequent sexual imagery. Female images with bare breasts, nude below the waist, displaying labia and female genitalia are common.
The Buddha, Kushana period, 2nd century A.D., Katra mound, Mathura region
Sculpture Features and Its Evolution
- More stress is given to the inner beauty and facial emotions rather than bodily gesture.
- There is boldness in carving the large images. The first Mathura image makers never intended to sculpt an anatomically correct human Buddha. Their images were a composite of 32 major and 80 minor laksana, or marks. Later, the Human Buddha images evolved associated with humanly beauty and heroic ideals.
- The early images of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva are happy, fleshy figures with little spiritualityabout them. The block like compactness and smooth close-fitting robe, almost entirely devoid of folds, are replicated in the earliest standing Buddha image that belongs to the Mathura school.
- The volume of the images is projected out of the picture plane, the faces are round and smiling, heaviness in the sculptural volume is reduced to relaxed flesh. The garments of the body are clearly visible and they cover the left shoulder.
- However, in the second century AD, images got sensual with increased rotundness and became flashier.
- The extreme fleshiness was reduced by the third century AD and the surface features also got refined.
- The trend continued in the fourth century AD but later, the massiveness and fleshiness was reduced further and the flesh became more tightened. The halo around the head of Buddha was profusely decorated.
Gandhara School of Art / Greco-Buddhist art
- 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 thousand 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.
Origin Place and Period of Development
- The origins of Greco-Buddhist art are to be found in the Hellenistic Greco-Bactrian kingdom (250 BC- 130 BC), located in today’s Afghanistan, from which Hellenistic culture radiated into the Indian subcontinent with the establishment of the Indo-Greek kingdom (180 BC-10 BC).
- Under the Indo-Greeks and the Kushans, the interaction of Greek and Buddhist culture flourished in the area of Gandhara, in today’s northern Pakistan, before spreading further into India, influencing the art of Mathura, and then the Hindu art of the Gupta empire, which was to extend to the rest of South-East Asia.
- The influence of Greco-Buddhist art also spread northward towards Central Asia, strongly affecting the art of the Tarim Basin, and ultimately the arts of China, Korea, and Japan.
- Gandhara style of art that developed in sculpture was a fusion of Greco-Roman and Indian styles. Gandhara school was heavily influenced by Greek methodologies, the figures were more spiritual and sculpted mainly in grey, and great detail was paid to exact depiction of body parts.
- It is also known as Graeco-Buddhist School of art.
- The Gandharan Buddha image was inspired by Hellenistic realism, tempered by Persian, Scythian, and Parthian models.
- Theme is mainly Buddhist, depicting various stories from the life of Buddha.
- Sculptors constructed Buddhist images with anatomical accuracy, spatial depth, and foreshortening.
- The images of Buddha resembled Greek God Apollo. Buddha’s curls were altered into wavy hair. The Buddha of Gandhar art is sometimes very thin, which is opposite in Mathura art.
- More stress is given to the bodily features and external beauty.
Gandhara Style, Afghanistan,4th-5th C.
- It looks like the Mathura, Gandhara arts cross-fertilized in due course of time, and the bulky Mathura Buddha gradually gave way to the slender elegance of the Gandharan image. The result of this synthesis ennobled, refined, and purified the Buddha image that appeared in the Gupta period. ThisGupta style became the model for Southeast Asian Buddha images.
- Some Greco-Buddhist friezes represent groups of donors or devotees, giving interesting insights into the cultural identity of those who participated in the Buddhist cult.
- Grey sandstone is used in Gandhara School of Art. The Bamyan Buddha of Afghanistan were the example of the Gandhara School.
- The other materials used were Mud, Lime, Stucco. However, Marble was not used in Gandhara art.
- Terracotta was used rarely.
- Stucco provided the artist with a medium of great plasticity, enabling a high degree of expressiveness to be given to the sculpture.
The Various Mudras of Buddha in Gandhara Art
- In all the Buddha depicted in the Gandhara Art is shown making four types of hand gestures and this is a remarkable feature in this art. The gestures are as follows:
- Abhayamudra: Don’t fear
- Dhyanamudra: meditation
Buddha in Dhyanamudra, Swat Valley, Pakistan (Buddha when meditating under the pipal tree before his Enlightenment)
- Dharmachakramudra: a preaching mudra
Seated in dhyanasana with his arms crossed before his chest in the gesture of teaching, Dharmachakra Mudra. This mudra symbolizes one of the most important moments in the life of Buddha, the occasion when he preached to his companions the first sermon after his Enlightenment in the Deer Park at Sarnath.
- Bhumisparshamudra:Touching the earth
“The Enlightenment: After meditating for forty days beneath a pipal tree, the Buddha approached the moment of omniscience. Evil demons have failed to distract him, and he calmly touches the earth to witness his attainment of enlightenment.
- In India, first time the Gandhara art flourished during the Kushana rule in India. Particularly Kanishka,the greatest of the Kushanas was a great patron of art and architecture. It was during his reign that Gandhara School of art flourished.
- The Kushans, at the centre of the Silk Road enthusiastically gathered works of art from all the quarters of the ancient world, as suggested by the hoards found in their northern capital in the archeological site of Begram, Afghanistan. The Kushans sponsored Buddhism together with other Iranian and Hindu faiths.
- Particularly under the Kushans, there are also numerous representations of richly adorned Bodhisattvas, all in a very realistic Greco-Buddhist style. The Bodhisattvas, characteristic of the Mahayana form of Buddhism, are represented under the traits of Kushan princes.
- Their coins, however, suggest a lack of artistic sophistication: the representations of their kings, such as Kanishka, tend to be crude (lack of proportion, rough drawing), and the image of the Buddha is an assemblage of a Hellenistic Buddha statue with feet grossly represented and spread apart in the same fashion as the Kushan king.
Kanishka, 1st century A.D. Mathura Region
- This tends to indicate that the Hellenistic Greco-Buddhist statues were used as models, and a subsequent corruption by Kushan artists.
An early Mahayana Buddhist triad. From left to right, a Kushan devotee, the Bodhisattva Maitreya, the Buddha, the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, and a Buddhist monk. 2nd-3rd century AD, Gandhara.
The “Kanishka casket,”(made in gilded copper) with the Buddha surrounded by Brahma and Indra, and Kanishka on the lower part, AD 127.
Maitreya, with Kushan devotees, left and right. 2nd century Gandhara
Kushans worshipping the Buddha’s bowl. 2nd century Gandhara.
Influence of Gandhara Arts on other Indian Arts
Influence on Mathura Art
- Many Mathura sculptures incorporate many Hellenistic elements, such as the general idealistic realism, and key design elements such as the curly hair, and folded garment.
- Specific Mathuran adaptations tend to reflect warmer climatic conditions, as they consist in a higher fluidity of the clothing, which progressively tend to cover only one shoulder instead of both. Also, facial types also tend to become more Indianized.
- The mixed character of the Mathura School in which we find on the one hand, a direct continuation of the old Indian art of Bharut and Sanchi and on the other hand, the classical influence derived from Gandhara.
Influence on Amaravati Art
- The influence of Greek art can be felt beyond Mathura, as far as Amaravati on the East coast of India, as shown by the usage of Greek scrolls in combination with Indian deities. Other motifs such as Greek chariots pulled by four horses can also be found in the same area.
Greek scroll supported by Indian Yaksas, Amaravati, 3rd century AD
Influence on Gupta Art
- The art of Mathura acquired progressively more Indian elements and reached a very high sophistication during the Gupta Empire, between the 4th and the 6th century AD. The art of the Gupta is considered as the pinnacle of Indian Buddhist art.
- Hellenistic elements are still clearly visible in the purity of the statuary and the folds of the clothing, but are improved upon with a very delicate rendering of the draping.
Buddha of the Gupta period, 5th century, Mathura.
- Artistic details tend to be less realistic, as seen in the symbolic shell-like curls used to render the hairstyle of the Buddha.
Head of a Buddha, Gupta period, 6th century.
Main Differences Between Mathura School of Arts and Gandhara School of Arts
- Mathura School: No foreign Influence, however, later it cross fertilized with the Gandhara School. Its development took place indigenously.
- Gandhara School: Strong Greek influence. Was based on Greco-Roman norms encapsulating foreign techniques and an alien spirit. It is also known as Graeco-Buddhist School of art. Initially inspired by Yaksha Images Assimilating various traits of Acamenian, Parthian and Bactrian traditions into the local tradition is a hallmark of the Gandhara style. Initially inspired by Hellenistic features.
(2) Material Used
- Mathura School: Spotted Red Sandstone
- Gandhara School: Blue-grey Mica schist / Grey Sandstone
(3) Image Features
- Mathura School: Early period: Light volume having fleshy body. Later Period: Flashiness reduced. Buddha carved out in various Mudras. Not much attention to detailed sculpting. Buddha is stout.
- Gandhara School: Finer details and realistic images. Buddha carved out in various Mudras. Curly hair, anatomical accuracy, spatial depth, and foreshortening. Buddha is sometimes thin.
- Mathura School: The halo around the head of Buddha was profusely decorated. Images are less expressive.
Buddha with decorated Halo
- Gandhara School: Not decorated, generally.The images are very expressive.
Amaravati School of Art
- In Amaravati, situated in the eastern Deccan, Andhra Pradesh, a different type of art form evolved and flourished for nearly six centuries commencing from 200-100 BC. Patronized first by the Satavahanasand later by the Ikshvakus and also by other groups
- The Amaravati school of art occupies a pre-eminent position in the history of Indian Art. With its beginning in 3rd century BC the Amaravati unfolds its chapters through the galaxy of sculptural wealth that designed the Mahachaityas.
- The lotus and the purnakumbha motifs are typical of Amaravati Art expressing auspiciousness and abundance.
- White Marble was used in this art and the themes were Buddha’s life and Jatakas tales. The curly hairs of Buddha is a feature that is influenced by the Greeks.
- In this school, the Kings, Princes, Palaces etc. have got prominence.
- Among the events of Buddha’s life, the most popular to be depicted, are his descent from heaven in the form of a white elephant, queen Maya’s conception, the casting of his horoscope after his birth, the great renunciation, the transportation of Gautam’s head-dress to heaven, the scene of temptation, the Naga- Muchalinda protecting the Buddha from rain with broadhood, the first sermon, and the mahaparinirvana represented by the stupa.
A drum slab carved in limestone with the four events related to the Buddha’s birth: Mayadevi’s Dream (top right); the Interpretation of the Dream attended by the dikpala-s (top left); the Birth of the Buddha attended again by the dikpala-s (bottom right); the Presentation of the Buddha to the caitya of the Sakyas (bottom left).
Depicts a scene from the Buddha’s life when he was prince Siddhartha, before his renunciation of his princely status and his subsequent quest for enlightenment. He is surrounded by palace women
Four Different Periods
First Period (200-100 BC)
- Through the successive stages, one may observe an advance in technique and refinement. The first period is evidenced at Jagayyapeta, where a few slabs on decorative pieces at the base of the stupa have been found. These slabs depict pilasters at intervals with animals above bell-shaped capitals and devotees adoring the Buddha, who is symbolically represented.
Second Period (100 BC to AD 100)
- The casing slabs above the platform are to be attributed to the second period. These slabs contain superposed panels depicting the Buddha in preaching form. The figures are more graceful and naturalthan those of the first period.
- They depict the principal scenes of Buddha’s life, the Buddha almost always being represented by a symbol, though in two or three places he is personified, the earliest cases of his personification on record.
- The sculpture showing Siddhartha leaving his palace on his journey, is typical of symbolic representation.
Third Period (AD 150)
- The railing round the stupa was carved. An inscription informs that in Vasisthiputra Sri Pulamavi’s reign (of Satavahana), additions were made to the stupa and the Tibetan tradition associated the Buddhist Acharya Nagarjuna with the construction of the rail.
- The sculptures form the high watermark of this school and the most outstanding in the whole of India. A new feature, absent in the earlier sculptures of Amaravati, is the delineation of different planes. The figures of the first plane are carved in deep relief, and the depth of cutting gradually diminishes with the successive planes.
- Most remarkable of all is the skill displayed in representation of scenes of action.
- The sculptures of Nagarjunikonda on the light- green limestone were a sequel to the Amaravati School and had their beginning contemporary with the third period of Amaravati art. The panels on the carved vertical slabs contained scenes illustrating the Jatakas.
Fourth Period (AD 200)
- The casing slabs of the fourth period show richer and elaborate carvings than the rail. The figures in the sculptures of this period tend to grow taller and slimmer. Also, one sees the finest miniature sculptures on the small circular bosses, in the friezes and on the casing slabs.
- The statues of the Buddha dating from the third century AD are magnificient and powerful creations. The features are full and the body is far from slender, the expression aristocratic and benign. The head is crowned with short curly hair.
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