Earliest example of Indian iconography is Kushan?
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.
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
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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