Gandhara, Shakyamuni (5)

2nd-3rd century, Gandhara, Shakyamuni, grey slate (schist), private collection, photo by Koller, sale A140AS lot 257.

In Gandharan art seated buddhas come in a variety of styles and normally represent the historical buddha, with a solar disc behind his head. This one has long soft hair gathered in a topknot tied with a jewelled hairband and wears a moustache. The sanghati often covers both shoulders.

2nd century, Gandhara, buddha (labelled ‘Amida’), stucco, private collection, photo by Skinner Inc., Asian Works of Art sale 2512, June 2010.

The above has thick curly hair piled in a chignon and he wears a garment with concentric folds tucked tightly under his ankles. His hands are in the gesture of meditation.

3rd-4th century, Gandhara, Seated Buddha with fire altar scene, schist, location unspecified, at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco (USA), photo here .

A lively portrait of a buddha with a loosely-draped robe that covers part of the throne with a fire-altar scene and jewelled trees at each corner.

4th-5th century, Gandhara, Seated Buddha, schist, at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco (USA) as before.

Here, on the contrary, every fold is arranged in an orderly manner limiting the notion of movement. The lotus seat is made of three rows of flat petals going downwards.

5th century, Gandhara, Teaching Buddha, polychrome stucco, private collection, photo by Christie’s, sale 2300 lot 130.

Shakyamuni is seated on a lotus throne with two adorants at the front, his hands doing the ‘turning the wheel of dharma‘ gesture, his pleated garment covering one shoulder only.

Gandhara, bodhisattvas (3)

2nd-3rd century, Gandhara, teaching bodhisattva, schist, at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford (UK).

A life-like bodhisattva seated on a throne with a fire altar scene at the front, bedecked with jewellery and wearing a pleated lower garment and a long piece of fabric over the left shoulder and across his lap, a large nimbus with ribbons behind him. The position of the hands (‘turning the wheel of the law’) is normally associated with Maitreya but in Gandharan art Avalokiteshvara may also do this gesture while holding a short-stalked lotus.

2nd-4th century, Gandhara, (Avalokiteshvara) Padmapani, schist with traces of polychromy, private collection, photo on Marcel Nies .

Seated with legs crossed and his feet placed on lotuses stemming from the base, Avalokiteshvara is identified by the buddha effigy in his headdress and the lotus in his right hand. He holds a water pot by the neck with his left hand. His ornaments include a choker with a lotus pendant, strings of beads with amulet boxes and a necklace with makara heads joined at the front.

Instead of the usual ‘tenon’ and cockade, the central part of his headdress consists in a miniature Amitabha with a flaming aureole behind him, fastened to a headband with makaras. Compare with a pensive Avalokiteshvara from Mathura, India here .

2nd-6th century, Gandhara, bodhisattva, grey schist, private collection, photo on underthebo

Quite different from standard Greco-Buddhist works, the above has a voluminous double loop hair knot and no moustache. His upper garment covers most of his chest and forms two loops hanging over the lotus base at the front. The water pot he holds by the neck with both hands suggests this is Maitreya.

Circa 3rd century, Gandhara, bodhisattva, schist, at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco (USA).

3rd-4th century, Gandhara, bodhisattva, schist, private collection, photo on Bonhams  

Gandhara, bodhisattvas (2)

2nd-3rd century, Gandhara, bodhisattva, schist, private collection, photo on lapada

This bodhisattva, which a water pot or a lotus would have identified as Maitreya or Avalokiteshvara respectively, is seated on a cushion atop a throne with a fire altar scene at the front, his halo topped with thick foliage described as sala tree leaves on the above site. His hair is tied in the standard double-loop topknot and his scarf is draped in the traditional manner over the left arm, the right forearm, and forming a loop over his ankles. The thin waist is most unusual.

He wears a headband, armlets, bracelets and only two necklaces, the longer ones with two animal heads (and a lotus?) at the front.

2nd-3rd century, Gandhara, bodhisattva, schist, at the Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Museum in Yamanashi (Japan).

Here we have the full range of neck adornments, the third one worn across the right shoulder and the fourth one, usually to carry amulet boxes, across the chest like a brahmin’s thread. The leg position, typical of Gandharan art, may correspond to either Maitreya or Avalokiteshvara.

2nd-3rd century, Gandhara, bodhisattva, schist, private collection, photo on Arte Mission.

3rd-5th century, Gandhara, bodhisattva, terracotta, private collection, photo on Ethereal 

The bodhisattva seated at royal ease in a pensive pose, a recurrent theme in Gandharan and post-Gandharan art from the Swat Valley and nearby areas, is usually Avalokiteshvara, identified on the second image through the lotuses he holds in his left hand.

Gandhara, two singular sculptures

2nd-3rd century, Gandhara, Shakyamuni and Maitreya, schist, at the  NSW Art Gallery in Sydney (Australia).

Only 51 cm tall, this remarkable sculpture depicts the historical buddha back to back with the future buddha (a bit like the two-headed Janus of the Roman mythology who looks at the past and at the future at the same time).

2nd-3rd century, Gandhara, Shakyamuni, schist, as above.

Shakyamuni has soft wavy hair gathered in a bun and a pleated robe that covers both shoulders and ends in a straight line above thick ankles and squarish feet typical of early works.

2nd-3rd century, Gandhara, Maitreya,  schist, same as above.

Maitreya is shown in his bodhisattva appearance, bedecked with the full range of necklaces, plain earrings, bracelets, wearing sandals and holding a ritual pot of water by its long neck.

4th century, Gandhara, Avalokiteshvara, schist, private collection, in Reflections on the Gandhara Bodhisattva Images, Pratapaditya Pal, on jstor

Instead of the usual fan-shaped ornament with a tenon at the front of his headdress, this bodhisattva has the effigy of a buddha with a halo and two devotees in monastic attire.

Dr Pal points out that although seated with both hands in the gesture of meditation, this buddha is not necessarily Amitabha, whom we normally associate with Avalokiteshvara. He also draws the attention to the sandalled feet often seen in Gandharan imagery and to the ornament worn across the chest. The rectangular “beads” on the string are thought to be boxes containing charms for protection.

Gandhara culture, Maitreya (4)

2nd-3rd century, Gandhara, Maitreya, schist, private collection, photo on  Tajan .

Maitreya, identified by the ritual water pot he holds by the neck, his strangely child-like face contrasting with his squarish torso and broad shoulders. He is adorned with the usual choker and strings of beads, one of them worn across the right shoulder, another worn across the chest, large earrings, armlets, bracelets, and a scarf that covers his left shoulder and his right elbow.

circa 3rd-4th century, Gandhara, Maitreya, schist, private collection, photo on Lapada

A rather plump figure without a moustache, his wavy hair gathered in a bun, holding a pot shaped like a blue lotus (upside-down) with his left hand and doing the fear-allaying gesture with the other.

3rd-5th century, Gandhara, Maitreya, stucco, private collection, photo on Gazette Drouot.

Yet again a different style, with an elaborate headdress and no beaded ornaments across his shoulder or his chest, the kundika missing from his hands. His pleated scarf covers most of the right arm, forms a loop over his ankles and ends over his left wrist.

Undated, Gandhara, Maitreya, schist, private collection, photo on Gazette Drouot

A rare sculpture of him seated on a throne supported by pillars and featuring a scene with a seated bodhisattva (possibly himself) at the centre and a kneeling devotee on each side. He wears a turban and a large fan-shaped ornament with a protruding element at the front (which is sometimes construed as a stupa but also appears on sculptures of Avalokiteshvara, for more details see Pratapaditya Pal ).

3rd-4th century, Gandhara, Maitreya, schist, private collection, photo on Bonhams .

This bodhisattva could also be Avalokiteshvara holding a (now lost) lotus as we saw here but Bonhams tell us that the ribbons across the halo are specific to Maitreya. We saw one from the  Met with long serpentine ribbons on his halo.

3rd century, Gandhara, Maitreya, schist, private collection, photo on Oise Enchères 

The buddha of the future with a large head, short legs and squarish feet, standing on a square base decorated with a four-petal floral motif.

3rd-4th century, Gandhara, Maitreya, schist, private collection, photo by Galerie Zacke on Gazette Drouot

With generous facial features, his hair tied in two soft loops falling on each side of his head, wearing a skirt-like lower garment pleated on one side and the usual jewellery, except for the beads across the right shoulder. He stands on a pedestal supported by columns and decorated with large flowers. His ritual pot is shaped like a lotus bud. The upper garment is tucked under the left arm and forms an elegant loop across his thighs before coming to rest over the right arm.

Gandhara, Shakyamuni (4)

3rd-5th century, Gandhara, Shakyamuni, bronze, private collection, photo on Grand Art

A rare statue of the historical buddha on a plinth atop a lotus flower, its cylindrical stem now missing.

2nd-3rd century, Gandhara, Shakyamuni, grey schist, private collection, photo by Christie’s.

Shakyamuni with soft wavy hair gathered in a meringue-like pointed bun, a solar disc behind his head, seated on a throne covered with a cloth, dressed in a pleated garment that covers both shoulders, one end held in front of him in his left hand, the right hand doing the fear-allaying gesture and displaying a tiny wheel embossed in his palm.

Undated, Gandhara, Shakyamuni, stucco, found at Nimogram, photo by Joan Raducha on

A different style, with thick lips, bulging eyes, a round hair bun, both hands in the meditation gesture and covered by his garment, with pleats roughly incised and going diagonally across the chest.

Undated, Gandhara, Shakyamuni, stucco, found at Nimogram, photo by Joan Raducha on

Here the robe doesn’t cover the hand and it has concentric pleats, the hair bun is smoother. On both images the hair locks are stippled rather than modelled.

Undated, Gandhara, Shakyamuni, black schist, found at Nimogram, photo by Joan Raducha, on

On this stone item, the artist has made very elegant pleats on the sanghati, in the Greco-buddhist style.

4th-5th century, Gandhara, Shakyamuni, stucco, private collection, photo by Sotheby’s.

The sculpture on the left depicts the historical buddha doing the gesture of meditation with the right hand resting in the palm of the left hand, his robe arranged in horizontal pleats over his ankles, his wavy hair gathered in a bun. The other depicts him with the right hand holding the left hand, his robe arranged in diagonal pleats over his ankles, his wavy hair coiled in a bun.

2nd-3rd, Gandhara, Parinirvana Buddha relief panel, grey schist, private collection, photo on Roseberys

An unusual depiction of the historical buddha on his death bed, his left hand between his head and the pillow, the right hand leaning on the couch.


We saw some Nepalese sculptures of peaceful Vajrapani gently patting on the head an infant-looking creature who has the tip of a vajra finial on his head and stands with his arms crossed over his chest. Described as [the embodiment of] a vajra sceptre by the Cleveland museum and labelled Vajra Anucha at LACMA and in the Huntington archive, he is mentioned in a 9th century Nepalese text as emerging from the soles of Vajrapani’s feet, in a circle of flames and with a wrathful appearance, to stand by him and assist him in his mission to convert non-believers to the Buddhist faith.

Circa 1000 AD, Nepal, Personified Thunderbolt (Vajra Purusha), copper alloy with traces of paint, at the Los Angeles County Museum (USA)

Stone sculptures of a similar character, known as Vajrapurusha/Vajra Purusha in the Hindu religion, were found in early Buddhist and Hindu shrines in India. He was revered as an independent entity in Nepal during the Licchavi and the Transitional Period (5th-12th century). The above example has three vajra prongs emerging from his round cap and wears a tiger skin loincloth held in place with a knotted cobra snake. He is adorned with snakes, a sash and what looks like a wing-like scarf (unfortunately there is no explanation about that at LACMA).

10th century, Nepal, Vajrapurusha, stone, was sadly stolen from the Tah-Bahal in Patan (Nepal), photo by Lain S. Bangdel on Stolen Images of Nepal

On this image he has a celestial scarf floating behind his shoulders and part of his head.

10th century, Nepal, Vajrapurusha, gilt copper alloy, at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena (USA).

Here the scarf forms an omega-shaped nimbus, and there is a flaming halo fastened to his shoulders. No doubt this unusual accessory is linked to Indra’s nature (Lord of the highest heavenly realm in Buddhism) and maybe to his other attribute, the rainbow.

14th century, Tibet or Nepal, Anthropomorphized Vajra, private collection, photo on Christie’s.

This extremely rare sculpture depicts a vajra with three heads, six hands, two legs. Clad in a tiger skin loin cloth and adorned with a garland of skulls, he holds an axe and a lasso in the lower ones, a dagger and possibly a lasso (now missing) in the middle ones, a triple gem (triratna) and a lasso in the upper ones (see close up on above link). The heads are crowned with a row of skulls topped with a half vajra finial and he appears to be chewing a snake or a corpse.

5th-7th century, Gandhara, Sahri Bahlol, Chakrapurusha (personification of Vishnu’s discus), bronze, at the Royal Ontario Museum (Canada).

Although not related to Buddhism, this sculpture of Chakrapurusha is interesting because it is reminiscent of the friendly yaksha appearance so popular in Tibetan art, and because the solar disc behind him is a recurrent feature in Gandharan sculptures of buddhas and bodhisattvas.