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HOME : Asian Art : Masterpieces of Asian Art : Gandharan Schist Dish
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Gandharan Schist Dish - LO.623
Origin: Afghanistan/Pakistan
Circa: 100 BC to 1 BC
Dimensions: 5" (12.7cm) wide
Collection: Asian
Medium: Schist
Condition: Very Fine

Location: UAE
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The ancient civilization of Gandhara thrived in the region encompassing modern northeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. Situated at a confluence of trading paths along the Silk Route, the area was flooded in diverse cultural influences ranging from Greece to China. Gandhara flourished under the Kushan Dynasty and their great king, Kanishka, who is traditionally given credit for spreading the philosophies of Buddhism throughout central Asia and into China. This period is viewed as the most important era in the history of Buddhism. After the conquests of Alexander the Great, the creation of Greco-Bactrian kingdoms, and the general Hellenization of the subcontinent, Western aesthetics became prominent. Greek influence began permeating into Gandhara. Soon sculptors based the images of the Buddha on Greco-Roman models, depicting Him as a stocky and youthful Apollo, complete with stretched earlobes and loose monastic robes similar to a Roman toga. The extraordinary artistic creations of Gandhara reveal links between the different worlds of the East and West.

Carved out of schist, this dish depicts a man riding on a fantastical marine creature. Similar dishes have been dated to the 1st century B.C. and represent some of the earliest surviving Gandharan sculpted artifacts. Mostly found in domestic contexts their exact purpose is unclear. One suggestion is that they were cosmetic palettes. More recently it has been argued that these shallow dishes were used for the ritual offering of wine, possibly to ensure a blissful afterlife for the dead. Many of the surviving examples, including this one, show a man or woman holding a wine cup and riding a hybrid mythological creature. This may be intended to suggest the idea of travel to a heavenly realm as a result of intoxication. This supports other evidence of the significance of Dionysian ritual in the area. Imported from the west, such practices were adapted to suit local circumstances. The lack of wear and tear supports the idea that the function of these bowls was ritualistic.

The quality of the carving is remarkable. The scaly hide of the marine creature has been expertly rendered by the ancient Gandharan sculptor. The male figure has been finely modeled as well, particularly the form of his leg. In Greek mythology, Poseidon, the god of the sea, as well as other sea and river deities rode upon the backs of these creatures. It is possible that this figure represents such a god. The waves of the sea have been indicated by a series of engraved lines that curve progressively outwards in opposite directions from a central axis marked by a straight line. The lip of the rim has also been decorated with a rope pattern. The dish is in excellent condition and would make a wonderful addition to any collection.

For examples of the same type with a similar motif, please see the catalogue to the exhibition: “Afghanistan: une histoire millenaire,” Editions de la Reunion des Musees Nationaux, (Paris, 2002), p. 107 and ‘The Art of Gandhara in the Metropolitan Museum of Art,’ (New York, 2007), p. 9, fig. 4. - (LO.623)


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