In 1979, a Soviet team of archaeologists excavated a burial mound in northern Afghanistan named by locals, Tillya Tepe, or the Hill of Gold. Much to their amazement, they unearthed a find composed of more than twenty-one thousand gold treasures. This find represents one of the most important artistic legacies of the Bactrian Kingdom, a Hellenic civilization founded in the wake of Alexander the Great’s conquest that merged Greek culture with Indian and Siberian influences. The Bactrians flourished here for over a hundred year until they were eventually pushed out. As the kingdom dissolved, many talented artists and craftsmen trained in the Classical vocabulary migrated to the emerging culture of Gandhara where they created the first images of the Buddha as a human that seem to echo in their form and style the finest sculptures of Apollo. It is one of these same artists that likely crafted this gorgeous gold pyxis.
A pyxis is a small container used for holding medicines or perfumes. This is a brilliant example of the sumptuous elegance of ancient objects. It is difficult to imagine putting anything inside this pyxis that could be more precious or valuable than the pyxis itself. In our modern era of machines and plastics, we have lost something. The inherent beauty of this object defies description. The imperfections of the form, the subtle bends and folds are the signature of an individual artisan; a signature lacking on today’s mass produced, one-size-fits-all merchandise. The inside of the lid is decorated by a softly incised undulating floral pattern. The banded handle of the lid recalls the forms of a turreted tower or pagoda. Overall, the superb metalwork of this vessel, the beauty of the form and material, is timeless. This lovely work serves as a link between the treasures of Bactrian gold unearthed in Tillya Tepe and the subsequent Gandhara civilizations whose artistic glories would culminate in the famed monumental Bamiyan Buddhas.