This well modeled head, with its youthful Hellenic features and wavy hair, incorporates two important features of superhuman perfection that set a Buddha image apart from any other. The ushnisha, or cranial bump on top of the head, a sign of the Buddha's omniscience, has been transformed into an elegant topknot, and the urna, a curl of hair resting on the forehead, symbolizes his renunciation. This head was once part of a Buddha relief image, clad in a monastic robe reminiscent of a Roman toga, which must have been part of a major monastic center in the ancient province of Gandhara, in modern-day Pakistan/Afghanistan.
The western nature of the art of Gandhara can be understood in the context of the many Greek outposts founded across Asia by Alexander the Great (reigned 336–323 BC), who reached India in 327 BC. The Gandharan style exemplifies Indian Buddhist ideals combined with the best of the Greco-Roman artistic tradition as expressed by artists working on the fringes of the Hellenistic world. This serene Buddha head is the work of an accomplished artist and is a fine example of an image carved during the second century.
Dimensions: height: 6 1/2 inches (16.5 cm)
Condition: Originally part of a larger relief image, the head is intact with some cracks and small losses to the face, particularly the left side, small losses to the back of both ears, and remains of adhesive from earlier mount. Overall in very good condition with museum quality custom mount.
Provenance: Private Boston collection, acquired during the late 1950's.