The Gupta Period derives it's name from a long succession of kings bearing the Gupta suffix. By the second half of the fifth century Sarnath becomes the principal center, during the reigns of Buddhagupta and Kumaragupta.
This sculpture is executed in the buff sandstone found at the Chunar quarries close to Sarnath. Three famous and well-published sculptures bearing dedications dated to 474 and 477 display a very close proximity in style, as stone sculpture reached its apex, see J. Rosenfield, 'On the dated carvings of Sarnath', Artibus Asiae, vol. 26, no. 1 (1963), pp. 10-26, figs. 1-3.
When compared to its Mathuran counterparts, Sarnath sculpture displays an even greater level of sensitivity, with gently rounded forms, subtle lines, delicate detail such as the finely delineated folds at the shoulders, and concentration on the essence. It represents the universally acknowledged pinnacle of Indian art.
Carved against an arched backplate, the figure appears to emerge fully rounded. The drapery is completely smooth, as opposed to Gandharan sculpture, revealing a gently stylized bodily outline and emphasis on the hands and their gestures.
Compare with a closely related example in the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd as illustrated below, equally employing an arched backplate with scalloped rim and beaded border. It is very likely that they belong to the same atelier.
A highly important buff sandstone figure of Buddha
The Sarnath Buddha
The Gupta period in India (4th to 6th centuries) was one of those eras when all forms of creative and intellectual expression simultaneously reached an unprecedented greatness and sophistication. This golden age's artistic awareness and sensitivity were rarely paralleled again - in India or elsewhere. All the arts, sculpture, painting, philosophy, literature - even astronomy and mathematics - blossomed under royal patronage.
Sarnath in Uttar Pradesh is one of Buddhism's four most important sites and, with Mathura, the most important center at that time. It is here, in the Deer Park of Sarnath, that Buddha gave his first sermon after attaining enlightenment, speaking about the origin of human suffering and offering an unselfish mode of thought and lifestyle to overcome it.
Buddha is depicted as an idealized image, draped in a monk's robe, emphasizing the purity of outline and form. Characteristic features reflect his noble stature - webbed fingers, elongated ear-lobes, hair in tight spiral curls, and a central protuberance indicating his enlightened and expanded mind. His right hand makes the gesture of reassurance, abhaya mudra. Gupta art takes elements from nature and elevates them with great subtlety to a supernatural level, the flawless execution befitting his spiritual perfection. The restrained form radiates inner energy. The canons of ideal beauty are defined in metaphorical terms, all elements are related to natural forms, such as eyebrows akin to the curved leaves of the margosa and eyes shaped like lotus petals. Thus the human body distills the essence of nature.
Property from a Private European Collection
1st Millennium A.D., Sculptures, Statues & Figures, figure, sandstone, India, Buddha
SOUTHEAST ASIAN MODERN & CONTEMPORARY ART
42½ in. (108 cm.) high
Rene Jaquerod, Zurich
Acquired by the present owner in September 1949.