Early Gupta period, early 4th century
H. 16 cm or 6 ¼ in
The Gupta period (4th – 6th century) is often considered as the classical period of Indian art. The incredible refinement of the artworks of this time was superbly demonstrated during an important exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2007. This very high-quality Buddha head is a witness of this Gupta art of the early 4th century, the mottled red sandstone and the style link it more precisely to the school of Mathurā.
Heir to the very first images of the Buddha, this delicate sculpture shows with great refinement the distinctive iconographic features of the Blessed One. The elongated earlobes indicate his renunciation of princely life. The cranial protuberance or uṣṇīṣa, clearly visible here, is the symbol of his wisdom and enlightened mind. The hairstyle that covers the cranial bump consists in small and thin articulately rendered snail-shell curls and is characteristic of the period. The poetic texts describe his half-shut eyes in the shape of lotus petals.
This head is a perfect example of an image that beautifully combines an accessible human figure with the sublime. The sweet humanity, so valued in Gupta sculpture, is evident in this finely carved face with sensuous lips and full cheeks. One must also admire the arched eyebrows and the very smooth carving of the recessed parts around the nose, mouth and chin which is quite exceptional.
However, his downcast eyes indicate a remove from the mundane and reflect his state of meditation and perfect beatitude. The slightly downturned corners of the lips also imply concentration.
The delicacy of the carving, the high quality of the sculpture and the incredible charisma emanating from this Buddha head make it a magnificent example of the artworks produced at the beginning of the Gupta period.
Provenance: Private collection of a doctor from northern German-speaking Switzerland, who died in 1997 and who had owned the piece since the 1960s.