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The art of Gandhara: A unique fusion of East and West

At the crossroads of South and Central Asia, Gandhara, located in what is now north-west Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, gave rise to a unique artistic style that left a lasting mark on the history of Buddhism. Between the 1st century BC and the 7th century AD, this region witnessed a remarkable artistic flowering, characterised by the fusion of Greek, Roman and Indian artistic influences.


Important bodhisattva head, ancient Gandhara region, 2nd-3rd century, appraised by Gauchet Art Asiatique for Millon auction house, sold for €12,000


The Gandhara region has long been a crossroads of civilisations, fostering an exchange of ideas and artistic styles. From the reign of Ashoka in the 3rd century BC, Buddhism flourished here. Then, under the Kushan dynasty in the 1st century AD, Gandhara enjoyed a period of economic and cultural prosperity, maintaining close links with the Roman Empire.


It was against this backdrop of cultural cross-fertilisation that Gandharan art developed. Inspired by Greek and Roman statuary, it adopted many of the same motifs and techniques, such as elegant drapery, vine scrolls, cherubs and mythological creatures. This Western influence is particularly evident in the representation of the Buddha, often depicted according to the canons of Greco-Roman beauty, with a youthful face and athletic body.



Standing Bodhisattva, Afghanistan - Pakistan, 1st - 3rd century, Schist, kept at the Musée Guimet in Paris

Despite the adoption of certain Western artistic codes, Gandhara art remains deeply imbued with the Indian Buddhist tradition. The iconographic themes and legendary stories depicted are inspired by the Buddhist sutras, and the deities and characters of the Buddhist pantheon occupy a central place.


Gandhara art played a crucial role in the spread and evolution of Buddhism in Asia. Its unique style, a blend of Eastern and Western influences, has inspired generations of artists across the Asian continent. His influence can be seen in Buddhist sculpture, painting and architecture in regions as far apart as China, Japan and South-East Asia.


Bodhisattva torso, probably Sahri-Bahlol workshop, Gandharan, 5th century, held at the MET in New York


Gandhara sculptures were mainly made in green and grey-blue schist, but also in stucco, a material that became widespread from the 3rd century AD onwards. The statues were often polychrome, enhanced by paint and gilding, which accentuated their expressiveness and magnificence.


The question of the representation of the Buddha has been the subject of lively debate among specialists. While ancient Indian art generally avoided depicting the Buddha in human form, the Gandhara and Mathura schools developed anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha, inspired by Greek and Roman models. This innovation helped to popularise the image of Buddha and facilitate its spread to new cultures.



Grey schist statue, ancient Gandhara region, Kushan period, 2nd-3rd century, appraised by Gauchet Art Asiatique for Millon auction house, sold for €10,000


Gandhara art, with its rich blend of Eastern and Western artistic influences, is an exceptional testimony to the circulation of ideas and styles across Asia. Its legacy continues to inspire and fascinate art lovers and Buddhist scholars the world over.


For those wishing to further explore this fascinating cultural heritage or to appraise and evaluate works, Gauchet Asian Art offers its expertise and know-how, providing valuable assistance in the appreciation and preservation of these unique artistic treasures.





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