Gallery Text

Although its popularity would not take hold in China until several centuries after its introduction during the Eastern Han period (25–220 CE), the religious teachings of Buddhism began in South Asia around the 5th century BCE, and by the 3rd century BCE, figural images with distinctive regional styles arose. Two grew to particular prominence, later serving as major inspirations for artisans in Central Asia and China. In the northwestern region of ancient Gandhara (parts of present-day India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan), artisans working in brightly polychromed gray schist or white stucco took their cues from Greek sculpture, creating figures with Classical facial features, thick curly locks, and heavy drapery. Gandhara was ruled by a series South Asian Buddhist Sculpture of Indo-Greek kings from the fourth century BCE onward and long served as an important artistic gateway between India and the West. Meanwhile, near the northcentral Indian city of Mathura, artisans drew inspiration from indigenous Indian sculptural styles, celebrating the corporeality of the body, which they draped in diaphanous robes that revealed its structure. Mathuran images were typically sculpted in mottled red sandstone quarried in nearby Sikri, and like their Gandharan counterparts, they were naturalistically painted. Visual elements drawn from both of these styles are visible in the early Chinese Buddhist sculptures on display in the next gallery.

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Stele with Bodhisattva and Two Attendants
Work Type
early 2nd century
Creation Place: South Asia, India
Kushan period, c.100 BCE-250 CE
Persistent Link
Level 1, Room 1740, Early Chinese Art, Arts of Ancient China from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age
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Physical Descriptions
Mottled red Sikri sandstone with buff veins; from Mathura
H. 18.5 x W. 21.5 x D. 7 cm (7 5/16 x 8 7/16 x 2 3/4 in.)
[Robert H. Ellsworth, New York, 1982] sold; to Fogg Art Museum, 1982.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Acquired with a fund established by Ernest B. and Helen Pratt Dane for the purchase of Asian art
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art
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Exhibition History

S424: Indian and Southeast Asian Sculpture, Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 10/20/1985 - 08/01/2008

32Q: 1740 Early China I, Harvard Art Museums, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

Google Art Project

This record was created from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator; it may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art at