Smithsonian Freer Gallery Sackler Gallery National Museum of Asian Art Gallery Guide Art of Buddhism
This exquisitely modeled head, with its classical youthful features and wavy hair, incorporates two important signs 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, while the urna, originally a curl of hair resting on the forehead and symbolizing his renunciation, appears as a rounded dot between the eyebrows. The head still carries traces of the gold leaf with which it was once covered, and its brown surface coloring appears to be the "ground" that was applied to the stone so that the gold leaf would adhere. This head was once part of a Buddha image, clad in a monastic robe reminiscent of a Roman toga, which must have been installed in a major monastic center in the ancient province of Gandhara, in modern-day Pakistan.

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 B.C.E.), who reached India in 327 B.C.E. 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 gently smiling Buddha head is the work of an artist of consummate skill and is a superb example of an image carved during the second century.

Head of the Buddha
Pakistan, ancient province of Gandhara
2nd Century
Schist with traces of gold leaf
32.1 cm x 19.2 cm x 24.0 cm

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