Fragment of a Statuette of Buddha Making the Abhaya mudra

This upper part of a terracotta torso of a Buddha belongs to the 3rd or the 4th century CE and represents one of the few Buddhist artifacts found on the territory of Sogdiana (Expedition Silk Road, 2014). Despite its very fragmental appearance, one can without doubt identify Gandhāran influence, conveyed by the silhouette and the symmetrical, realistic, folds of the robe. The right hand of the Buddha makes the abhaya mudrā, the gesture of protection and fearlessness. One would guess that the other hand, to judge by the appearance of the extant robe, would be kept alongside the body, or else showing the mudrā of compassion, varada mudrā. Often it would be the Historic Buddha or Buddha Śākyamuni, who is represented making an abhaya mudrā. According to the shape of the drapery, one can guess that the statue represented a standing full-face figure. If classical proportions were followed, it was about 32 cm height. Terracotta was a popular material in Central Asia, and a number of Buddhist clay sculptures have survived, mostly originating from Bactria, but also from Sogdiana proper (Stavisky, 1998, 137-145). Bactria was a major and influential center of Buddhist art, and the tradition of stone sculpture has come to an end there by the middle of the 3rd century CE (Mkrtychev, 2007). Another cause of the growing popularity of the material such as clay was the reorientation of Buddhism from the high society to the middle class, which in the early Middle Ages concerned the entirety of the Buddhist world (ibid, 483). Two techniques were used to produce terracotta figurines, either modeling, as in the case of the figures of the horse riders, or else stamping in a mold, such as in the case of this statue. One such mold for the fabrication of Buddha figurines was discovered in Panjikent (Stavisky, 1998, 163). One of the unusual and rare features of the figure is the right hand’s emergence from drapery that envelops the whole arm. This is not the way the Gandhāran masters normally use drapery. Yet this case isn’t unique. There is another Buddha statue with a similar plasticity belonging to the same period. It is a bronze figure of the Buddha found in eastern Afghanistan, dated to the 4th century CE. The bronze Buddha, however, doesn't make the same mudrā, and his hand, emerging from under the robe, holds its edges, providing the figure with a pensive appearance. This iconography indeed is rarely seen used for the representation of Buddhas or Buddhist monks, and almost never appears outside of the Gandhāran region (Kreitman in Errington, 1992, 212). It seems to have its roots in iconographical traditions of the ancient Greeks, where it was used on the statues of philosophers and poets, with the most famous example being the Greek statue of Sophocles in the Vatican Museums (Foucher, 1917, 135-36). This pose of the “Orator” equally suits the Buddha proclaiming his wisdom. In our case the hand kept its emerging position, but the palm turned its face to the viewer, in a gesture more auspicious for a Buddhist. This development may be explained in purely geographical or temporal terms, or else as evidence of the syncretic nature of Buddhist Central Asian art, which drew inspiration simultaneously from various existing Buddhist traditions. - Maria Slautina

Bibliography

Expedition Silk Road: Journey to the West. Treasures from the Hermitage, Exhibition catalogue, Hermitage Amsterdam, 2014. (MS)

Stavisky, B. Y. The Destinies of Buddhism in Central Asia, According to the Archeological Finds (Sudby Buddizma v Sredney Azii, Po Dannym Archeologii), Moscow, 1998. (MS)

Mkrtychev, Tigran. “Buddhism and Features of the Buddhist Art of Bactria-Tocharistan”, in After Alexander. Central Asia Before Islam, British Academy:OUP, 2007, pp. 475-485. (MS)

Errington, Elizabeth et al (ed). The Crossroads of Asia. Transformation in Image and Symbol in the Art of Ancient Afghanistan and Pakistan, Exhibition Catalogue, Cambridge, 1992. (MS)

Foucher, A. The Beginnings of Buddhist Art and Other Essays in Indian and Central Asian Archaeology, Paris and London, 1917. (MS)

Metadata

Date

3rd–4th century (?)

Coverage

Samarkand (?), Sogdiana

Format

Statuette

Dimensions

H 6.3 cm

Materials

Clay, stamped in a mould, corrected with a knife,
engobe, fired

Location

State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
Inv. AFR–2095

Additional Research Metadata

Provenance

Coll. Stolyarov; 1908 purchased by S. M. Dudin; transferred from the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography

Citation

“Fragment of a Statuette of Buddha Making the Abhaya mudra,” Telling the Sogdian Story , accessed April 20, 2019, http://sogdians.nyufasedtech.com/items/show/369.