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Stucco head of Buddha

Stucco head of Buddha

A life-size stucco head of the Buddha with typical almond shaped eyes, aquiline nose, small mouth and ears with pierced lobes.  The closely cropped, wavy hair is tied together in a typical ‘snail-shell’ that crowns the head. A stylised urna is positioned between the eyes.  Traces of reddish pigment decoration are present, particularly on the lips and eyes, and on his forehead.

• This fine idealised head of Buddha is characterised by a powerful, hypnotic gaze.  The eyes are emphasised with red pigment, as are the lips. The shell-like topknot is typically associated with the Buddha.1  The general style is strongly influenced by Hellenistic sculpture.  The sculpture of Hadda is known for its use of materials such as stucco and lime plaster, and comprises only a relatively small number of carvings in schist and soft limestone.  Because of the freshness and vivacity of their modelling, stucco sculptures appear more moving and spiritualised than those made in the somewhat stiffer and dryer manner that characterises stone sculpture.   The technique of stucco was an invention of the late Hellenistic period in Alexandria, where gypsum was first used as a cheaper substitute for marble.  As trade relations with the Roman West intensified in the early first century, the technique spread from there to Iran and India.  Heads of statues were constructed on a rough core of lime plaster mixed with straw and small stones, which was then covered with an outer layer of finer stucco for the modelling of the features and hair.  The fragile bodies, which were moulded out of local earth and covered by a thin layer of plaster, had crumbled to dust before early excavations began.  This accounts for the predominance of heads in this material preserved in collections.2  Comparable examples of Buddhas attributable to the Hadda region can be found in the British Museum3, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston4, the Musée Guimet in Paris5 and in a private collection.6  

  1. Kurita, I. Gandharan Art II, The World of the Buddha, Tokyo 2003, p. 312
  2. Rowland, B. Ancient Art from Afghanistan, Treasures of the Kabul Museum, New York 1966, pp. 72-73
  3. Zwalf, W. A Catalogue of Gandharan Sculpture in the British Museum, Vol.1, London 1996, no. 571, p. 323
  4. Rowland, B. Gandhara Sculpture from Pakistan Museums, New York 1960, p. 36, fig. 11
  5. Exh. Cat. Afghanistan, une Histoire Millénaire, Paris 2002, no. 103, p. 143
  6. Wenzel, M. Echoes of Alexander the Great: Silk Route Portraits from Gandhara, a Private Collection; London 2000, no.1, p. 24

Gandhara, Hadda, 4th - 5th century

Height: 14 inches, 35.5 cm

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