Head of the Buddha. Afghanistan, 300-400 AD. Museum no. IM 3-1931

Head of the Buddha. Afghanistan, 300-400 AD. Museum no. IM 3-1931

Head of the Buddha
Afghanistan (Hadda)
300-400 AD
Stucco with pigment
Museum no. IM 3-1931

This beautiful head of the Buddha was once part of a large-scale narrative panel modelled in high relief. It formed part of a life-size figure, probably of Gautama the Buddha as a young man. Like much Gandharan stucco, this head was originally richly polychromed, and traces of red remain on the lips, eyelids and hair.

The face was shaped from a mould. Examples of such moulds have been found in excavations at Gandharan sites, which indicates such figures were manufactured at the monasteries where they were installed. However, the hair and other features were modelled by hand. A flat surface on the reverse indicates that the head was attached to a surface behind rather than free-standing. The remaining wall fragment probably formed part of the Buddha’s nimbus.

The head displays several of the characteristic auspicious marks (‘laksanas’) of the Buddha. These include the prominent hair-knot (‘ushnisha’), which here has been treated in a Graeco-Roman style unlike contemporary Indian styles. Another of the marks is the forehead mark (‘urna’). The elongated earlobes are an allusion to the Buddha’s former princely status when he wore pendant earrings.