Gray Ghandaran Schist Seated Buddha
3rd Century A.D.
9 inches tall

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Ghandara (also spelled Gandhara) is the ancient name for the Peshawar Valley and adjoining parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the first to third centuries CE, this area saw a period of exceptional prosperity under the rule of the Kushans, a dynasty originating in Central Asia. A prosperous merchant class grew up and these merchants, and together with the Kushan rulers, endowed many Buddhist monasteries and shrines. By commissioning these works, such as this sculpture, the patron, according to Buddhist thought, acquired merit in this life, which could lead to a better existence in the future.

Ghandaran civilization flourished here for many centuries (reaching a remarkable level of maturity) and is particularly remembered for its Buddhist sculpture & art. During this period, thousands of monasteries and stupas were built and lavishly adorned with statues of Buddha, typically carved from grey metamorphic rock technically referred to as "schist", featuring narrative scenes from the life of "Buddha in his many reincarnations".

archeological dig in the Swat Valley The great cultural and spiritual Gandharan sites of Taxila, Takht-Bhai and Udegram in the Swat Valley are renowned for the vibrant Buddhist art and sculpture. The Swat Valley has over 100 known archeological sites in the valley with less than 10% that have been excavated. As the work continues, many fine artifacts, such as the one featured on this page, are being unearthed, and some ultimately make their way to the west.

Excavating a sandstone Stele or wall carving from the wall of an ancient temple Ghandaran art is some of the earliest renderings of the historical Buddha. Prior to the 1st or 2nd century there is no surviving iconography of the Buddha. Ghandaran art is heavily influenced by the Greco-Roman style of sculpture which was prevalent at the time. Thus the facial characteristics of ghandaran pieces tend to be Romanesque - much more European than later periods when Buddhist sculpture took on a decidely Asian flair.

Click to see full size superb ghandaran Shakyamui Buddha carved from black stone from the collection at the Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR 2006 - 3rd Century A.D. (ca. 24 in. tall) Ghandaran images of the Buddha have certain common characteristics... the flowing robes draped around the shoulders and across the body, with the hair in loose flowing curls rather than the tight ringlets characteristic of later sculptures. The hair is drawn up into a bun which is the ushnisha, the protuberance at the top of the head which represents the flame of supreme enlightenment. Ghandaran sculptures of the Buddha almost always have the urna as well, the "third eye" in the middle of the forehead. Ghandaran sculptures are typically either modelled stucco, a mixture of cement, sand and/or limestone... or they are carved from schist, a metamorphic rock like basalt with a preponderance of lamellar minerals like mica or chlorite. It is the mica which gives certain schist sculptures their glitter or sparkle.

Unusual rendering of Ghanadaran style Shakyamuni Buddha exquisitely carved in ivory from early 20th century - (7 in. tall) Accurate ghandaran reproductions are rarely found in the art world, perhaps because people decorating their homes with Asian pieces seem to prefer the decidely Asian renderings of later periods... and art collectors who will pay the big money for genuine ghandaran art will ultimately know the difference. The Villa Del Prado Light of Asia Collection has one piece in the ivory collection which strongly resembles the ghandaran period though it was carved in the last century (see image at the right - click to see it full size).

Ghandaran art is highly prized by collectors with larger pieces often bringing upwards of half a million dollars at major auction houses like Sotheby's. This priceless small schist sculpture featured at the top of this page is unusual for its size at just over 9 inches, as well as for the remarkable state of preservation relative to its antiquity.

See all the fine sculptures in the Villa Del Prado Light of Asia Collection Online.

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