Head of Buddha

Red sandstone
Northern India, Sārnāth
Circa 5th century
H. 25 cm or 9 ⅞ in



This important sandstone Buddha head is a touching example epitomizing the Sārnāth school’s aesthetic canons in Northern India and all the elegance and restraint of Gupta classicism in the 5th century AD. This work is of significant size (H. 25 cm or 9 ⅞ in) and with a solemn charisma.

The pure lines of this Buddha express an intense serenity, rather detached or even almost inaccessible, characteristic of the statues sculpted in the workshops of Sārnāth during the Gupta period. The face has an oval shape, very characteristic, and the features are idealized. The eyes almost closed with heavy eyelids, the sinuous line of the eyebrows and the mouth, the fleshy lower lip: each element is finely carved and contributes to the harmonious rendering of proportions. The cranial protuberance or uṣṇīṣa – a sign of Buddha’s wisdom – is an integral part of the hair and is covered with tight and individualized curls, a typical feature of the Gupta style. The subtle modeling of the surface enhances the plastic qualities of the sculpture.

After achieving Enlightenment, Buddha preached for the first time in the Deer Park of Sārnāth, near Vārāṇasī (Benares). There, he set Buddhist Law (dharma) in motion and gave his sermon containing the foundations of Buddhist doctrine. Due to its religious importance, this site concentrated a large number of Buddhist structures during the period. This head, with its calm and impassive face, must have belonged to a statue of the Blessed One represented standing or sketching the Turning of the Dharma wheel and probably adorned a sanctuary in the region of Sārnāth. Comparable pieces exist: at the Musée Guimet (Inv. no. P372), the British Museum (Inv. no. 1880.7) or the Archaeological Museum in Sārnāth.

This rare and beautiful head of Buddha was exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago in the early 1980s and offered for sale by Sotheby’s London in 1991.


Provenance: Private collection, UK.