Ben Janssens Oriental Art - Indian and Souteast Asian Art
Design by Keenan Design Associates
Stock - Indian and Southeast Asian Art Design by Keenan Design Associates

Grey schist panel of the Great Renunciation

Gandhara, 3rd - 4th century
Height: 17 1/4 inches, 44 cm
Width: 9 1/2 inches, 24 cm

Grey schist panel of the Great Renunciation © BJOA 2005

A grey schist relief fragment showing the interior of a palace with a Corinthian column supporting a balcony with three servants. To the left, the upper part of a guard holding a weapon is visible. Two attendants are sleeping on the floor. On the right the lower torso of the Buddha can be seen in a pose that suggest he is leaving the palace. The back of the panel is flat and shows chisel marks. An old repair in the form of a small metal bar vertically fixed is visible.

This sculpture depicts an important scene from the final life of Buddha or Siddha-rtha as he was called, born to a Nepalese king and queen. His birth had been a supernatural event with the gods announcing that this would be his last birth. His father was therefore anxious to keep him and created a world around him devoid of pain and suffering. These precautions however could not prevent the four encounters that Siddha-rtha was to face, namely an encounter with an old man, a sick man, a corpse and finally a religious wanderer. Following the fourth encounter he resolved to renounce the world. This is the scene captured in the sculpture, Siddha-rtha being “repelled by the sight of his sleeping attendants, restraining himself from taking his sleeping son and leaving the city” 1. The Gandhara region, forming part of present day Afghanistan and north-western Pakistan, was an important meeting place of different artistic traditions. Following the invasion of Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC, the Gandhara region came into contact with classical Mediterranean culture. Graeco-Roman art was of such influence that it resulted in a style sometimes known as ‘Indo Greek’. Buddhist stupas, shrines and monasteries where decorated using blue-grey schist from the 1st century AD, some which were erected by the Kushana rulers. The classical draperies and architectural settings as seen in this Gandhara Buddhist sculpture, show the influence of the Graeco-Roman style. By the 2nd and 3rd centuries this hybrid style was well established. Comparable scenes can be found in the British Museum2 and the Seattle Art Museum3.

1 - Cf., In the Image of Man, exhibition catalogue London 1985, pp. 186 –7
2 - W. Zwalf, Buddhism Art and Faith, London 1985, page 35 and 36 plate 20
3 - P. Pal, Light of Asia Buddha Sakyamuni in Asian Art, Los Angeles 1984, no 35



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