Earliest example of Indian iconography is Kushan?

John Huntington huntington.2 at OSU.EDU
Thu Apr 14 14:28:08 UTC 2005

>Raffaele Pettazzoni, Professor of the History of Religions at the University
>of Rome, wrote in _The All-Knowing God_ (1956:124) the following line. Is it
>still true that this is the earliest example of Indian iconography?
>  "The standing god with three heads or faces whom we find on some coins of
>the Indo-Scythian kings of Kusan (second century A.D.) is the oldest known
>example in Indian iconography of historical times; from the third century
>onwards the instances become steadily more numerous in sculpture.
>Dean Anderson

No. There is sculpture of Buddha images from Swat 
that are at least 2 centuries earlier and images 
from Mathura that are Buddhist and others (Jain, 
S´aiva) that are first  century BCE
Both the Sanchi stupa 2 and and Barhut railings 
are early 1st century BCE and the Pitalkhora
door guardians and  Gana.  There are fragments of 
Mauryan (mid 3rd century BCE) sculpture at 
Sarnath, the Didergang cauri bearer, the 
Lohanipur torso, and numbers of fragments from 
the Patliputra area (Modern Patna). There are 
also the Patna and Vidisha Yakshas from about the 
beginning of the 2nd century BCE. All of these 
are certainly "iconographic"

By the way, you can find all of these sculptures 
and sites on our website URL below.

Kusan coinage as the origin of Indic art 
developed with Alfred Foucher in the Late teens 
and twenties of the 20th Century with the on 
going thesis that the Greeks taught the Indians 
everything they know about iconography.

The truth is far more complex. Mortimer Wheeler 
in his Flames over Persepolis semonstrated that 
when Alexander conquered the Persian empire, at 
least some of the sculptors made their way to the 
Court of Chandragupta Maurya. There is a 
description of Chandragupta's palace by a "greek" 
probably Macedonian ambassador named Megasthenes 
who visited the court in the late 3rd century BCE 
in which he mentions the gleaming stone pillars.

Thus, the craft of fine stone carving  arrived in 
India at about 325 BCE.  However, both the Lomas 
Rishi cave  facade (3rd century BCE) and the huge 
cave complex at Pitalkhora (2nd century BCE) are 
detailed copies of elegant wooden architecture. 
What this suggests is that there was a tradition 
of monumental wooden architecture for palaces and 
sacred spaces already in place by the third 
century (probably with roots of great antiquity). 
As both of these sites have beautifully executed 
animal sculpture and Pitalkhora has figurative 
sculpture as well, it seems that figurative and 
iconic sculpture was already an established 
on-going tradition.

My guess is that if Patliputra is ever 
excavated(tricky since modern Patna is on top of 
it) we would find a great deal of sculpted stone 
and, since most of the actual ruins are below the 
current water table, even wooden sculpture. One 
such wooden sculpture has come to light and is in 
private hands in the city itself.

Pettazzoni was writing at a time, 1956, when 
Foucher's theory was still part of the dialog, 
however, while there are a few older scholars who 
may believe it, not many if any of the younger 
ones do and in My opinion what I have outlined 
above makes much more sense.

I hope this helps


John C. Huntington, Professor
    (Buddhist Art and Methodologies)
The Ohio State University

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